Scent of the Missing – Book Review

As we head out, I wonder what my own dog will bring to the work, to the team, and to me. I like the thought of a long drive home with a Golden snoring belly-up in the back of the car; a good dog who has worked well. A partner. A friend. After a search like this one, that companionship must take away a little of the ache. – from Scent of the Missing, page 17 –

Susannah Charleson first found herself drawn to search and rescue through the air – piloting a small plane on searches for missing people and in disasters; but later, a dog lover and someone who found she liked the work “on the ground,” she decided to certify a search and rescue (SAR) dog with the Metro Area Rescue K9 unit in Dallas, Texas. Scent of the Missing is Susannah’s story of that journey with Golden Retriever Puzzle by her side.

From the first page of this heartfelt book, I was hooked – and not just because I too have traveled that long, difficult, heart-rending and rewarding journey from novice to mission ready SAR K9 handler, but because Charleson can write. She writes from the heart, but it is never sappy or overly emotional. Her prose is descriptive, intuitive, and honest. She writes about the big searches (like the search for human remains following the Columbia tragedy), but she also gives the reader details of the “small” searches, the searches that no one ever hears of except in the small town with a child or adult go missing. The stories she tells are the ones that every searcher remembers – the ones where the person is not found, or where they are found days later deceased. She shares the heavy weight of responsibility which all searchers carry, and the mix of emotions which accompany every search.

Reading Charleson’s book, I was drawn back to my own experiences of being a K9 handler – the long trainings in all kinds of weather and conditions, the 2:00 am “wake up call” when my pager would sound and I would be instantly on alert, the fatigue, the hard work…and ultimately the incredible partnership with my dog. Charleson effortlessly captures all of that in Scent of the Missing.

Dog lovers will love this book and fall in love with Puzzle, Charleson’s adorable, full of life Golden Retriever who takes to the field naturally and challenges her partner from the start. The bond that develops between handler and dog is beautiful and hard won. And, of course, for anyone who has worked in the field of search and rescue (or is considering volunteering for a team in their area) Scent of the Missing should be required reading. Despite my tears at times reading Charleson’s words, despite the fact that it made me ache with missing my own SAR dog Caribou, I am glad I read this beautifully written book.

Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

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    • Laura on November 23, 2010 at 11:41

    What a lovely book. I can just imagine how you felt reading it.

    • jeane on November 23, 2010 at 13:08

    It sounds wonderful. I read a book about a search and rescue dog a while back and while i wanted to love it, it just wasn’t what well-written. This one sounds much better. I’ll probably give it a look.

  1. This sounds like an amazing story! I love dogs, so I bet I would love the book too.

    • zibilee on November 24, 2010 at 07:23

    This book does sound like it was just made for you and I am glad to hear that you liked it so much. I do admit that this is a book that I would love to read as well, and am going to have to check it out. Thanks for the very personal and thoughtful review.

    • Tui on November 24, 2010 at 10:20

    This sounds so good. My first thought when I saw the title was of ‘Bou as well. Then I saw what you said. A working dog doing what it is trained to do is an amazing sight.

    • Wendy on November 28, 2010 at 15:29

    Laura: It was so good, but so tough too!

    Jeane: This is really, really well-written…

    Kathy: Yup – I think you would love it!

    Zibilee: You’re welcome…I would love to read your view on it.

    Tui: I agree 🙂

    • Teddy on November 28, 2010 at 23:04

    I don`t know a lot about search and rescue dog work, except what you have written about. I know it is really hard work and that both handler and dog are in great danger every time they do this work. I added this to my TBR.

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