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Rescue Dogs Scout Out 'Scent Of The Missing'

Apr 21, 2010 (Talk of the Nation)

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Search-and-rescue dog handler Susannah Charleson and her partner, a golden retriever named Puzzle, work with the elite Metro Area Rescue K9 unit in Dallas, Tex.

Charleson tells the story of their partnership in her book, Scent Of The Missing.

Charleson and Puzzle have worked all kinds of cases, from a teen who disappeared, to an Alzheimer's patient who wandered off. And when the space shuttle crumbled over Tex., police called in Puzzle.

Still, Charleson tells NPR's Neal Conan, "a not uncommon assumption is that search dogs only find the deceased." In fact, Charleson clarifies, the first thing the dogs are certified in is "live finds," or recovering missing people when they are still alive.

To date, Puzzle has never declined to work a search. "This is what they love to do," says Charleson. There is some language handlers use to indicate "ready, set, go!" to their dogs, and generally the hardest thing is holding Puzzle back till its time to search. But if Puzzle ever indicated to Charleson she did not want to work, Charleson would assume she was sick or injured, and not put her in the field.

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