Thursday, June 19, 2008

Working Dogs

The American Kennel Club identifies dog breeds by group. One is the Working Group. But that’s not what I’m blogging about today. No, I want to cheer on the actual working dogs, dogs who fulfill a function that helps people, which people can’t necessarily do for themselves.

Some working dogs are companion dogs. There is at least one organization that provides canine assistance to people with emotional issues, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome. I can easily believe that people in difficult emotional situations are helped at least a little by hugging a non-judgmental canine companion who’s always delighted to be with them. Other dogs visit hospitals or hospices to help cheer up the patients, if only temporarily. I’ve also saved articles about local senior citizen homes where the seniors aren’t the only residents. Sometimes they’re permitted to bring their own pets, and other times the pets are there thanks to the homes’ management who understand that older folks who may have lost friends and family can be cheered tremendously by a happy pup.

Then there are the dogs who use their noses for people’s sake. Just this week, the news reported that a cadaver dog located the remains of a woman who had been missing for eight years. It was definitely not a good situation, but at least her poor family might reach closure now. Authorities brought the well-trained dog to the Mojave Desert, where he indicated interest in a particular spot. Sure enough, when the people dug, they found what the dog had scented.

Especially poignant these days are stories I read of military dogs who bond with their handlers in overseas assignments. Sometimes the soldiers ask to be buried with their dogs should they be killed while on duty. I’ve read that the dogs are sometimes given military ranks higher than their handlers’, both as an honor to the dogs for their devoted duty, and to ensure there would be some consequence to the handler should he or she mistreat his comrade in paws. Sometimes, the soldiers even work out a way to bring their canine partners home to the U.S. with them when their tour is over.

I write occasionally about working dogs in my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mystery series. Kendra’s pet-sitting assistant Rachel sometimes takes her dog Beggar to a senior citizens’ home to help cheer the residents. Others compete in reality shows. But I have more working canines in some of my upcoming Silhouette Nocturnes. ALPHA WOLF, the first one, which will be published in January 2009, includes military canines along with their human shapeshifting counterparts. The second one, to be published in June 2009, with the working title MORTAL OPTIONS, stars a lady cop who happens to have Valkyrie powers--and a K-9 partner.

Okay, so I love writing about dogs as much as I enjoy reading about them. But nothing compares with having them in the family!

What’s your favorite working dog story?



Monica Ferris said...

There are so many favorites, that's not a fair question! I am currently very moved by soldiers in Iraq who adopt a stray and then, with enormous compassion, effort, and ingenuity manage to get the dog sent home when their tour is up. I remember especially one dog that followed his adopted company across desert terrain when they were moved out -- he was one of the first sent to the States. The loyalty of a dog can beggar the imagination.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I heard about that dog, too, Monica, and was very moved by the story. Dogs' love for us seems unconditional, sometimes even in the worst of circumstances.

Anonymous said...

A day late, but with a story you'll like. During World War II, an American GI found/bought a Yorkie puppy in Australia. He kept it with him (in the Pacific theater) and the dog went on bombing missions, and even pulled communication cables under runways. I am so irked with myself that I can't remember the man's name or the dog's, but I met the man nine (?) years ago. Always had a better respect for Yorkies after that!
Also, a grateful and teary pawshake for all the military dogs who've given their lives - especially the ones in Vietnam that the brass at home refused to bring back and left alone in the pullout.
I also met John Burnam, of the Vietnam War Dog Handlers Association, author of Dog Tags of Courage (National War Dog Memorial Fund), at that event.
Anonymous Kate