By Susannah Charleson
In 2010, Susannah Charleson’s debut book, Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership, rocketed into the literary world, appearing on the New York Times, Dallas Morning News and Denver Post bestseller lists. The book, which delved into the author’s experiences as a K9 search-and-rescue (SAR) handler/trainer, was optioned for television the same year.
Her next book, The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of Rescues Taught Me About Service, Hope, Taught Me About Service, Hope, and Healing (2013), chronicled her work with rescue dogs trained for mental health service work.
Now, she has a new book: Where the Lost Dogs Go: A Story of Love, Search, and the Power of Reunion. In her latest work, Charleson reports on her experiences with SAR for lost pets. The book is filled with heart-lifting rescue stories, as well as the nuts and bolts of what to do when a pet is lost.
The unwavering spirit of Ace, a special Maltese-mix shelter dog; her special relationship with Puzzle, an aging Golden Retriever; and tales of her complex relationship with her parents—who laid the foundation for her desire to help animals—enrich the account.
More than a heartwarming and entertaining story, the book is peppered with fascinating details about dog behavior. For example, she discusses Kat Albrecht, head of the Missing Animal Response Network, and her system of classifying dogs into three temperaments, each with its own challenges for recovery: the gregarious dog, who enjoys human company and will seek it out when separated from his owner; the aloof dog, who’s shy and easily overwhelmed by strangers; and finally, the xenophobic dog, who’s fearful of almost everything and may be so traumatized that she loses the ability to recognize her owner. According to Albrecht, well-meaning helpers can actually make the chances of recovery worse if they don’t understand the dog’s temperament.
Two of Charleson’s beloved SAR dogs, Puzzle and Ace, are the threads that link the parallel stories of her challenging upbringing and her work reconnecting lost pets with their owners. In introducing us to Ace, a bedraggled stray slated for euthanasia, she calls him “the one in the back of the cage.” Charleson details Ace’s health issues and physical appearance when she saw him in the shelter; none of them stopped her from leaping to his rescue. After nursing the sweet dog back to health and unable to find his owner, she decides to train him for SAR work, a job the little white dog takes to immediately.
My greatest hope is that those who read this book will be inspired to follow the “Lost-Pet Checklist” recommendations in the appendix, especially the advice to plan ahead. Having these critical preventive measures in place could mean the difference between recovery or a tragic permanent loss. The appendix also lists search strategies and provides guidance on what to do if you find a pet.
A hole in the fence, a slipped leash, fireworks: when the unexpected happens, Charleson’s insights and information could mean the difference between a happy reunion or a tragic outcome. As one of the book’s most poignant lines reads, “This is another thing the search for lost dogs has taught me: they don’t wander until they do.” Thanks to Susannah Charleson sharing her pet-finding expertise in this new book, we now have tools we can use to increase our chances of finding our beloved pets if the need arises.