Thursday, April 1, 2010

Animal Rescue: No Foolin’!

Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone!

This time last week, I experienced something extraordinary--for real. I observed a training exercise by the Small Animal Rescue Team (SmART) of Los Angeles Animal Services!

I started researching a lot of facets of pet rescues several months ago, when I started writing the first Lauren Vancouver, Pet Rescuer mystery for Berkley Prime Crime. The Lauren series is a spinoff from my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter series, and my first manuscript was due at the beginning of March. I’m currently working on the plot of the second.

I’ve met some awesome people in the course of my research. When I wanted to make sure that a scene in Lauren #1 involving SmART made sense, I e-mailed it to one of those wonderful contacts, the commanding officer of SmART and other elite teams within Animal Services, for her comments. I also asked if there was any possibility of my attending a real rescue or training session.

Turned out there was! I felt really honored to get permission to observe. And so, last Thursday, I met with the team as they gathered in an Animal Services facility before a training session, then followed them to a rocky area in the northern part of Topanga Canyon in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. Their camaraderie was contagious and impressive.

And then I went rock-climbing so I could observe them. Yes, me, a writer without a whole lot of athletic ability. Well, I climbed some rocky areas, at least, and attempted to keep up with them. Managed reasonably well, too, thanks to their kindness in keeping an eye on me.

They all were clad in uniforms and amazing climbing and protective gear. Once the gang was at the top of the rocky area that was their goal, they hooked up various lines, including extra ones for safety. Then, attached to those lines, several team members slid over the cliffside to the bottom. Some of them were brought back to the top again, and others either waited there or climbed back up. The team’s prior training has included going down a cliff to practice rescuing an animal that might have fallen. This time, their focus was also on getting up to the top of a cliff to save an animal that might be stuck up there. They saved MARTE -- a stuffed toy dog whose name stands for Mock Animal for Rescue Training Exercises -- several times!

Why do any of this? Because this wonderful group of people is dedicated to saving small animals. Not just pets, but even wild animals who get themselves into trouble, too. In fact, the day of the training, the session was cut a little short so some of the team could go to a local newscaster’s neighborhood and place an owlet that had fallen out of a tree back into its nest with its siblings. The week before, they’d saved the lives of a large number of coots (more wild birds) that had been endangered by falling into a storm drain. Getting domestic cats down from trees is one of their normal assignments. Rescuing dogs in danger, too, is on their agenda. They are a unique team, and they are creative, coming up with all sorts of tools to help them succeed.

Now, I’m keeping this description a bit sketchy--since my hope is to use it more graphically in an upcoming Lauren story! Some things are for certain, though: It was memorable, it was fun, and I thank everyone involved, especially the Team Leader, and all the team members, for including me and treating me as if I was one of their team!

What’s the most special research you’ve ever done, either for writing or any other part of your life?


Betty Hechtman said...

You are very brave, Linda, and I'm sure it will pay off in the descriptions in your next book.

A lot my research for the crochet mysteries involves shopping -- the only danger there is to my credit card bill. And I spend a lot of time playing around with hooks and yarn, which doesn't come close to rock climbing.

However, when it comes to

Monica Ferris said...

When I was writing a series about a police investigator I did a lot of "ride alongs," going out with street cops in a patrol car. Sometimes it was boring, but once in awhile it would get exciting, even scary.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I'm not brave, Betty--just enthused! And there is definitely danger when credit cards are involved...

Linda O. Johnston said...

That sounds like fun, Monica. I was hoping to go on a ridealong with the L.A. Animal Cruelty Task Force, but the call they received on the day I was there sounded too potentially dangerous for a civilian to tag along.

Janie Emaus said...

My research involves some time traveling, but I don't want to divulge my exact method!

Sounds like you had a great time.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Time traveling for research sounds like fun, Janie!