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Winner Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2008
Shortlisted for Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2009, 2010
Longlisted for Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2011 Shortlisted Best Written Book Blog - 2010

Caribou

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Caribou (February 15, 1998 – January 29, 2009)

bou4thjuly0001 Caribou passed from this life on January 29, 2009 after a brief illness with spleen cancer. She was a big personality and bigger presence…her role in our home was essentially “Queen” where she kept track of everything and everyone and made sure that all the routines were followed exactly as they should be.  Caribou’s “can do” attitude and simple joy of living was evident in all she did. She was the first to rise each morning to start the day, and she made sure the house was secure before she went to bed each night.

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  • Certified Search and Rescue Dog – Air Scent (March 2, 2002), Land Cadaver (July 23, 2002), Water Cadaver (April 4, 2003) – California Rescue Dog Association

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Creative Non fiction published on The Piker Press about me and Caribou on Search and Rescue missions:

Caribou as a puppy:

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thebou0001.JPG Caribou was very serious about her job to patrol the yard, control the toys, and monitor “the pack.” She had no qualms about “hot loading” a helicopter, but was terrified of the fan over the stove.

Below are some short vignettes I’ve written about Caribou over the years.

*****

Raising a Search and Rescue Dog

(First published on my blog March 11, 2005)

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I stood outside my front door and listened to frenzied yips coming from inside the house. The noise had continued for more than a half hour and it was all I could do not to rush inside and rescue my new puppy. I knew I was being absurd. This was not the first puppy in the world to have separation anxiety and hate being in a crate. I had raised a few puppies before I got this one, however, and she was the first to carry on for such a prolonged period of time.

Suddenly the yipping stopped. Quiet fell over the neighborhood. I held my breath and waited. I decided to wait a full ten minutes before going inside and praising her for settling down. The minutes dragged by and everything remained silent.

I pushed open my front door, a smile twitching across my face and the words “Good girl,” on my lips. The words died before I could utter them. Inside the crate, my eight week old German Shepherd puppy sat surrounded by shredded cloth. The queen sized blanket I had draped over the crate (just like the puppy training book recommended) was now inside the crate. Soft fragments of cloth surrounded my puppy. Only her dark eyes and huge ears could be seen.

I should have known at that instant what my life would be like living with a Search and Rescue dog. I chose Caribou, my first certified canine partner, for her drive. It is the most important attribute a search and rescue dog can possess. Drive in a dog is equivalent to a Type A personality in a human. Nothing deters a driven dog from its goal. Specifically, driven dogs are ball crazy or highly motivated by prey. Search dogs must possess drive to “get the job done.” Their sole motivation is to complete the game and get the reward…in most cases, their favorite toy. A good search dog will work for hours in difficult terrain and challenging conditions. They don’t want to take rest breaks and will work to the point of exhaustion unless monitored by their handlers.

And so, when I decided to pursue a ten year dream of working a search and rescue dog, I went out to find a puppy with high drive. I looked at a lot of puppies over the course of several months before finding Caribou. She was the runt in a litter of three and the only female. From the moment I set eyes on her I knew she was the partner for me. Her bright eyes never left my face. She charged after a squeak toy I threw, pounced on it, killed it with a quick shake of her head, and returned it to me without hesitation. She was a big dog in a puppy’s body with no lack of confidence. I plopped down $200 and took her home that day.

Her dislike of the crate was only the first of many challenges. She had no off switch. When I tried to restrict her activity or teach her self-control, she treated me like I was just another dog to be dominated. After a week of no sleep, I gave up trying to get her to spend the night in the crate. She slept in bed with me from that day on, under the covers, her soft head draped across my chest. I fell in love with her despite her stubborn, the “hell with you” attitude.

*****

A Dog’s View of Work

(First Published on my blog March 6, 2005)

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It is possible for our dogs to teach us important concepts. For example, Caribou has taught me about the definition of work.

I watch Caribou in the yard. She walks around the fence line; she sniffs beneath the woodpile. Sometime a feral cat spends the night beneath the woodpile tarp and she catches him there early in the morning. He hisses, safe beneath the wood and she lays at the edge of the tarp and guards the opening until I call her inside and allow the ragged cat to escape the yard.

Outside once again, Caribou trees the chatty squirrels and prevents them from raiding the bird feeder. Sometimes she lays on her bed just inside the breezeway where she can watch the backyard and also keep an eye on the road. Neighbors stroll by the house, walking their dogs, and Caribou always sounds the alarm. She lets them know that this house is guarded; this house has a german shepherd on duty 24 hours a day.

As the day darkens into early evening, I bring the dogs inside and feed them. Only then does Caribou rest. She climbs atop the leather sofa; lays her big head against the armrest and falls into a deep, satisfied sleep. She is exhausted at the end of the day; and I realize that she has indeed “worked” all day long. A day of strolls around the yard, laying on the breezeway…it looks to me like a leisurely day; and yet clearly it is not what it seems.

I think about my day of work which typically consists of phone calls, note taking, driving from place to place to make patient visits, sitting in meetings. I wonder what Caribou thinks when I leave for the morning and climb into the car. She loves car rides; to her they are adventures, not work.

Caribou is a working dog; she is a trained search and rescue dog. When we respond to a callout, I say she is going to work. But, I watch Caribou on searches or in training and I see her bright eyes, her joy of the hunt. Would she say this is work? I doubt it.

Ultimately, work is defined by the individual. And perhaps the way we define it determines our joy or our unhappiness.

13 Comments

  1. April 28, 2009    

    What a gorgeous dog Caribou was. I am so profoundly sorry for your loss.

    We lost our beloved GS dog a few months ago and I don’t think we’ll ever completely recover.

    Thanks for your book reviews, too — but I had to tell you how much I admired Caribou.

    Latayne C Scott
    http://www.latayne.com
    Novelmatters.blogspot.com

  2. April 29, 2009    

    Latayne: Thank you so much for your kind words (sorry for the delay in your comment posting – my spam filter gets a bit rabid sometimes!). And I am so sorry for your loss. I still think of Caribou every single day and miss her – although little Raven has been a good distraction. I don’t think we can ever replace or forget the dogs who mean so much to us.

  3. June 15, 2009    

    Hi there
    What a dog! What a loss. But what a great honor to have had her as your pal and it sounds like she had a great life. I had a dalmatian who died about four years ago and I still think of him regularly – he was stark raving mad, but had so much character. Now I’ve fallen in love with my husbands dog, Hercules – a Rhodesian/rotweiler cross – he’s a big handsome boofhead of a thing. Sadly he is not a well boy these days. He’s old and not long for this world. They’re with us for such a short time but they have such a profound effect. I can certainly empathise with your loss.

  4. June 15, 2009    

    Sharon: Thank you for your very kind words. Our animals are such special parts of our family, aren’t they? I am sorry to hear that Hercules is feeling his age these days…enjoy the time you have left with him – it is precious!

  5. maria maria
    August 7, 2009    

    If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all

  6. April 8, 2010    

    What a beauty! It’s amazing to read about Caribou. We had a beloved great dane named George Bailey who passed away ten years ago–and there is still a little empty place in my heart where he used to curl up. They really do change your life.

  7. April 11, 2010    

    Thanks, Katherine – she was my big, wonderful girl. I still miss her. Isn’t it amazing how these wonderful animals wiggle their way into our hearts to stay?

  8. June 4, 2011    

    Hi,

    I’m so sorry about your loss. She sounds like she was a great dog! Her pictures are beautiful!

    I wish you happiness in the future and another great furry friend like Caribou!

    Melissa Douthit

  9. June 6, 2011    

    Thanks, Melissa – she was very, very special to me and I still miss her. I have a new shepherd now who is currently 2 years old. Raven is my wild child!

  10. Michelle Michelle
    September 16, 2012    

    I thoroughly enjoy reading about Caribou. What a stunning relationship you had with her. We have a 6 year old GS/possibly husky?? mix. She possesses all the traits you described Caribou as having. She is also very vocal…she “talks” to us as she lies on the couch and we recline in our chairs. It’s like a “woe-woe-woe-woooh” pronunciation and we’ve never been sure if this is a GS or husky characteristic as we’ve never had a “big” dog. She is a big sister to a 9 year old Yorkie and he is the only dog she will allow near her. She ignores our cats. Of course, she keeps tabs on them, but they rub against her and sniff her nose. She couldn’t care less. LOL It is a joy reading about Caribou and you! Keep working on those FWS blocks. I, too, am using 1930’s reproduction fabric but have only made the first block and it is too small…6 1/4″ so I must do a “re-do”. Happy Stitching!

  11. Charlene Truxler Charlene Truxler
    May 10, 2013    

    Caribou was a beautiful spirit and it really came through her pictures and the way you speak of her. We recently lost our Merlin. He was a wonder, loyal, and beautiful as well. It is difficult when one looses a family member, furry or otherwise. I am sorry for your loss, but know she is always with you. All the Best to you and yours.

  12. May 20, 2013    

    Wendy, Caribou is such a beautiful dog and you can tell by looking at her that she was very intelligent. I had no idea that you were involved in search and rescue, that is awesome! Beloved pets are hard to give up, they add so much to our lives, they really are like fur people. I’m sorry for your loss. I know it’s been some time back, but none the less, the wishes are the same. We just recently had to have our female husky put down and it’s been hard. I know she is better off now, I catch myself looking out the window to look for her, but she is not there any more.

  13. June 3, 2013    

    Caribou was a beautiful dog. I had a German Shepard/Lab mix. She was a creamy white color. I know she was happy to be my protector. I miss her. I now have a Boston Terrior with a great attitude. She loves to cuddle in my lap. Dogs are amazing in the bonds they form. Thanks for sharing your stories.

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