Last summer, I got a call from an Art Director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a publishing house so big even I’d heard of it She explained that they are publishing a book written by a Dallas woman about her relationship with her search and rescue dog. At the time, she described it as “part Marley & Me, part CSI.” She asked if I’d be interested in shooting Puzzle, star of the book, for the cover. Ummm….. YES.
The book chronicles Susannah Charleson’s work in SAR and her training of Puzzle to be her partner. Search and rescue is very serious work, and the cover photograph was to reflect the seriousness of the work, to be congruent with the title, Scent of the Missing. And be a compelling shot, preferably with direct eye contact. Well, it was easier said than done.
I met Susannah and Puzzle early one morning in August. And then a couple more mornings. It’s not easy to get a “serious” shot of a happy dog like Puzzle — but it’s really not easy when it’s 100 degrees out. Puzzle’s tongue was out, lolling to the side, pretty much the minute she stepped out of the car. She wore her vest at our shoots – an indication to her that it was time to work – so her nose was up, catching any and all scents, just waiting for the “find!” command. Though she performs serious work, Puzzle’s a happy, pretty, blonde girl, eager for butt scratches and willing to sit in your lap to get them.
I just finished the book last night. It’s a compelling, well-written read. It’s not a sappy, “Marley & Me” dog book – though it does have its moments of humor, particularly as puppy Puzzle grows up – but rather a true story of the beginning of what will hopefully be a long relationship between a SAR handler and her partner, and a woman and her dog. Susannah has articulately described the physical, emotional and psychological demands required of a SAR team, and the grueling training process to become certified. She details how Puzzle learned to do her job — and how she learned to be Puzzle’s handler. For the dog people, it’s fascinating to learn how the dogs are trained, how they perform their work, how their senses are honed. I highly recommend it, as do a load of (unbiased) reviewers. You can order a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Borders, and get more information on the book and its stars at the Scent of the Missing website.