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.
- Certified Search and Rescue Dog – Air Scent (March 2, 2002), Land Cadaver (July 23, 2002), Water Cadaver (April 4, 2003) – California Rescue Dog Association
- Footprints in the Wilderness (published 2007-04.16)
- Out of the Fog (published 2007-03.12)
- The River Revealed (published 2005-04.10)
Caribou as a puppy:
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)
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)
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.