“His name is Odie, the young woman tells us as we jog back to her
house. And he is very old. Black all over except for gray on his face.
She was in the shower. She was in the shower and Odie was there in
the bathroom with her, because when she gets out of the shower he
likes to lick her wet feet. But someone else in the house was going in
and out the front door, and maybe the screen didn’t close or something, and Odie must’ve slipped past it, because when she got out of
the shower he wasn’t there, and he was always there, and she knew
right away that something was wrong. That was noon or maybe a
little later. She’s been searching since then. He never goes out the
door. Never. Except he must have. The young woman pauses, says
her friend — and she hesitates on the word — is out driving around
looking for Odie in his car. She’s tried to ask the neighbors. She’s
knocked on every door for three blocks. People don’t answer their
doors here, she says. Why don’t people answer their doors? Odie is
a very old sort of dachshund. He’s fuzzy, and he has a spine thing
and a heart murmur and a deformed windpipe, but he is the sweetest dog, the best dog, and this heat will kill him.”
(Excerpted with permission from “Where the Lost Dogs Go”)
How many of us have lost a pet, I don’t mean crossing the rainbow bridge kind of losing, but actually had our four legged pet run out of the door, unbeknownst to us? And, once we’ve realized it, we capture the first people we see to help us. The excerpt above is the breathless story heard by author and part-time rescuer of missing humans and pets, Susannah Charleson. Odie’s owner spilled out a frantic, disjointed explanation of her dachshund’s disappearance complete with unnecessary details, complaints, and worry. Every pet owner who reads this story will understand completely.
Charleson’s book, Where The Lost Dogs Go, is the latest in her series about her part-time work as a search and rescuer (SAR) partnered with well-trained dogs that can sniff out lost humans and lost animals. It’s a fascinating ride of hair raising escapades as neighborhood animals suddenly find themselves free either by an opened door or a hole in the fence. I first came upon the author through her book, Scent of the Missing, about her desire to become a searcher after seeing a photo of an exhausted SAR worker on the job after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. A pilot as well, Charleson already had SAR experience from the air, but was drawn to more hands on work on the ground with a trained canine by her side.
Where the Lost Dogs Go is also a love letter to her parents who despite their own weaknesses and lack of money, always found strength, and a can of tuna fish to corral any loose dog, whether on a busy highway, in the pouring rain, or blinding heat. Charleson can remember the tiniest detail of growing up in the dysfunctional household, with her “unusually freakish memory.” Every dog and cat that found their way to their door would never be turned away. Now, on her own, with her parents divorced and aging, she recounts their lives together, the dogs and cats they saved, and the astounding rescue of Ace, a mess of a Maltipoo that found his way into Charleson’s heart with search skills of his own.
She’s seen dogs and cats reunited with owners months, even years, after being reported lost. The love between pet and owner can continue no matter the time or distance, she says. Readers will be reminded to microchip their pet, and update any address change with the microchip registry; to keep checking shelters for lost pets regularly, as rescued animals arrive daily; and continue to monitor Facebook’s successful “lost pets” pages. (Tip: if you’ve lost a pet, place their picture on a sign in front of your home or apartment with your phone number so anyone in the neighborhood can let you know of any sighting, and use Sharpies for writing out flyers since they resist smearing if it rains.)
When asked about her most favorite rescue story, we hear about a senior Yorkie/poodle mix who was in an L.A. shelter scheduled to be euthanized. With the help of friends, Charleson was able to get him in time, but it required her to fly round trip to L.A. for pick up. At the airport for the flight home to Texas, and this new doggie in a carrier, Charleson sees a harried mother and a child come her way. The child was having a very loud meltdown in the very crowded terminal. Charleson gets up to let the mother sit, and in a quick conversation, learns they’re headed for a funeral, and since her son has sensory issues, he was not coping well. Just then, there was a little noise from the carrier. The boy stopped crying. For the next 45 minutes the boy and dog connected. What was a highly distressing scenario was instantly calmed by something that Charleson says “no human can do.” Exhausted by the ordeal, the boy slept for the entire flight.
In a conversation with the author, I asked what she wants readers to take away. The answer is as complicated as one of her searches. Essentially, to show the power of love even in the most hopeless of situations, and also a more practical one, which is to share her best tips for finding lost pets. “I wanted to let readers know how to do it,” she says, and makes good on that promise with a lengthy list of rescue tips. The chapters alternate between Charleson’s recent searches, and those decades ago when the family car would stop, and parents and child thrust into another search and rescue operation. It’s not work for anyone who gives up easily; it’s a calling.
Where the Lost Dogs Go
Top photo: Susannah Charleson on duty with her SAR dog, Puzzle.
All photos, courtesy of the author.
For more information on Susannah Charleson’s work, visit her website.