Blitz: Working Dog Drop Out Number Two
It was hard to re-home Saber, but with it done we needed to look for another puppy. The world of search is small, and within a week or two we had a lead on a four-month-old Golden in the Seattle area named Blitz. He was returned to the breeder after genetic tests indicated he was a carrier for Ichthyosis, a skin disorder similar to dandruff, but in some cases more severe. Since we don’t breed dogs, it doesn’t matter to us if a dog is a carrier, so we were hopeful. We had several experienced people look at the dog’s breeding lines, and everyone agreed there was a strong possibility that he would have enough toy drive to become a search dog.
Tim explained what we needed over the phone, but it’s difficult when the breeder is out of state. Because there are so few FEMA live find search and rescue dogs, most people haven’t seen one work and don’t understand the kind of toy drive we need. So, we asked if we could take Blitz on a trial basis. The breeder agreed, and Blitz came down from Seattle that week. Tim brought him to search and when we threw the toy, he bounded after it.
That very day, I took Blitz home to evaluate him. I stopped at Lowe’s to see how he handled it. Approached by kids, teenagers and adults, he wagged his way through all of it. When I got home, he happily retrieved in my backyard. All signs looked good, but we had a week so I wanted to work him as much as possible.
After a couple of days, I took him over to our head trainer’s yard so she could evaluate him. When she threw the toy, he ran a couple of steps, then stopped to sniff the grass. We tried with a softer toy, hoped he wouldn’t retrieve because he was teething, but he still didn’t show much interest. She wasn’t impressed. I was so disappointed.
Back at home when I threw the toy down my cement dog run, he’d happily bring it back. But, later that week I took him to a park, threw a toy and he showed no interest. He wanted to run about and make new friends. To be a search dog retrieving a toy has to be the most exciting thing in the world. Blitz didn’t feel that way.
Another friend trains dogs at Canine Hope for Diabetics. Diabetic alert dogs don’t need as much toy drive as search dogs. So, she took Blitz to evaluate his drive and willingness to work, but returned him to me the next day. He was too distracted when she took him out, and the puppy price was too high for her. (For whatever reason, Golden retriever puppies cost about twice as much as Lab puppies. So, unless you have a specific reason to use a Golden, it doesn’t make sense financially.)
Blitz went back on an airplane to Seattle. With shipping and crates, that one week experiment cost Tim $1,000.
Two years in, and Tim had spent $4,000 with nothing to show for it. Most people, at this point, would give up. Besides the financial cost, it is emotionally exhausting to find a dog, bring him home, take him out and about and then send him back or find him a new home. Tim didn’t give up, of course, and I didn’t either. Working a search dog is closer to an obsession than a hobby.
This time, I scoured the Internet and emailed people from one side of the country to another to find the perfect puppy. All of the breeders replied quickly, but most had questions because they didn’t know what we needed in a live find search and rescue dog. Only one breeder, Jackie Mertens, said she knew exactly what we wanted. She told us she’d sold multiple dogs to FEMA handlers throughout the country. So, we decided to buy a puppy from her. Twelve weeks later, she sent us Rook.