Search no more, you’ll want to read ‘Hero Dogs’

You felt like such a loser.

It was a feeling that didn’t last long, only long enough to ruin your day until you realized that one moment isn’t forever. Nope, you’re not a loser and in the new book “Hero Dogs” by Wilma Melville with Paul Lobo, neither are these elite canines.

They started as an idea from the ashes of disaster.

When Wilma Melville saw Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building on that spring morning in 1995, she was stunned. Debris was everywhere, which meant that odors were, too. Her search and rescue (SAR) dog, Murphy, was capable of finding any possible survivors but as the task continued, Melville clearly saw that America needed more SAR teams.

She vowed right then to train 168 SAR dogs, one for each Oklahoma Bombing victim.

It wouldn’t be as easy as picking out a puppy somewhere.

Melville decided that her target trainees would be unwanted former strays and rescue dogs. The nature of SAR demanded that ideal candidates be younger, in top physical shape, and have an extremely high prey drive; those that didn’t make the cut would be adopted out or trained for other work. Finally, SAR dogs had to possess an ability to work closely with their handlers, the first of which were firemen because firemen, says Melville, completely understand the kinds of the disasters for which dogs would be deployed.

Following her instincts and led by her promises, Melville found her first three trainees, “a rejected guide dog, an abused stray, and a washed-out competition dog.” She took them to a co-visionary, a woman who was “something of a legend in dog-training circles,” and within months — much faster than anyone thought possible — Ana, Dusty, and Harley passed their FEMA tests, followed by Zack and Billy, Abby and Ace, more handlers and more dogs. Melville’s brainchild, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) was ready for any emergency.

And that included September 11, 2001.

Your dog knows how to sit, shake-paws, and stay when told. He might even hunt or retrieve but you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve read “Hero Dogs.”

And if dogs aren’t reason enough to want this book, there’s this: don’t be surprised if your emotions surface when you least expect it. Authors Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo, tell a tale of despair that turns into the biggest success possible on many levels, but they do it in a way that gives readers the feeling that we’ve got a stake in the outcome. Her pups become our pups, and by time Melville’s “misfit” dogs make her proud, we are, too. When they’re goofy, we laugh along with her; we also grieve at failures. This makes the story even more compelling; it doesn’t hurt that Melville and Lobo know how to heighten suspense better than any novelist could.

And so, your search for something to read this weekend ends right here. It’s got action, adventure, and warm fur on four feet. For dog lovers or anybody who loves a heroic story, “Hero Dogs” is a winner.

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