Partners

Partners
“Partners: Everyday Working Dogs Being Heroes Every Day,” by Nan Walton. Hubble & Hattie. $34.95.

It’s difficult to establish a physical or psychological boundary for the incredible versatility of the working dogs you meet in the Utah author’s terrific compendium of 26 stories from handlers of scent-detection, K9 law enforcement, search-and-rescue, Guide Dog and therapy-dog arenas.

Whether you’ve seen them first-hand or in video or simply read about the exploits of these animals, this beguiling collection of narratives will instill a deeper perspective and admiration for the species.

With 18 years of search-and-rescue, forensic crime-scene recovery, narcotics detection and therapy-dog work, Walton brings a solid understanding of the demands required of each discipline.

She began collecting working-dog stories six years ago in the Utah area and incorporates some of her own in the mix. Each is in the partner’s own words, detailing the intricacies of cases and the loving bond within the family at the end of the working day.

One involves Mike Serio and JJ, Utah’s first police bloodhound team. JJ came into Serio’s home to be “our best friend, not a police dog,” says Serio, who takes the reader through several tracking scenarios involving robbery and homicide suspects with JJ baying all the way until pinpointing his target’s position.

When JJ was 9 he was diagnosed with melanoma in his mouth and lived only a year after that diagnosis, catching 50 felons in that span while undergoing treatment virtually the entire time. The painstaking void his loss leaves in Serio’s life is something to which we can all relate.

And then there is Enzo, a high-powered Belgian Malinois and his partner Deputy Blake Gardner, of the Emery County (Utah) Sheriff’s Office, who was responsible for uncovering and removing $10 million worth of drugs from the streets of Utah in the 1990s, initiated six days into their relationship.

In another riveting vignette, Walton details her relationship with Katie, a German Shepherd, which she describes as her “friend and mentor always” that “produced miracles daily.” Katie spent five years actively searching for lost parties on mountains and in the desert, eventually being slowed by a knee injury and segueing into forensic crime-scene recovery.

“Katie helped me look outward beyond the narrow framework of my life,” writes Walton. “. . . Sheltered from many of life’s realities, Katie helped me take gigantic steps in becoming more balanced within myself. She introduced me to a completely new and purposeful endeavor, while enabling me to work at the side of a species I had been connected top for years.”

Walton adds, “There is absolutely no question that the experience of our partners fortifies their intelligence and influences the direction of their focus. If they are encouraged to function, based on their instincts, not on our perceptions, their bold, assertive personality gains strength: insight sharpens and self-confidence encourages a new level of communication as they perceive with excited anticipation of the job ahead.

“After experiencing various situations in real life, they can differentiate between training and reality, sensing the environment with its associated dangers and emotions while reading all the signs surrounding a new assignment.”

Whether it’s the rigors chasing the bad guy in K9 law enforcement or the tenderness and insight of the therapy dog in a children’s hospital, the insight you glean from the human partners’ sweeping reflections is invigorating and powerful.

For instance, retired police K9 officer Stan Stark, of the Weber County (Utah) Sheriff’s Office and now supervisor of safety and security, McKay-Dee Hospital, in Ogden, Utah, emphasizes, “Probably one of the most important and interesting facts that I have learned in 22 years of working with dogs is that each has its own special strengths. Some dogs are great at scent work; some are great at patrol; so discovering and utilizing their strengths provides the team with the best potential for success, although this is not possible until you have actually worked the dog for some time.”

The unique synergy between man and animal is showcased dramatically in the Guide Dog chapter, where, as Walton characterizes, a life-altering “symbiotic partnership” is crafted with huge benefits for both.

For us fully sighted individuals, it is impossible to walk-the-walk of blindness, but the nourishing portraits here provide a 20/20 feel for the trust and communication required and how that four-legged creature can help recapture one’s independence lost over time.

In story entitled, “John and Traveler and Mick,” John notes one of “the fringe benefits of a Guide Dog is good health,” prompted by his increased confidence to get out and exercise more often.

Therapy-dog connections and subsequent behavioral transformations have been widely documented from children to seniors, along with many veterans. Here, you can journey alongside Hoop, Dunk and Truman as they induce megawatt smiles, tantalizing touches and plenty of thanks.

Each of these vivid snapshots is packed with colorful anecdotes, connecting powerfully to the reader with depth and panache. Upon finishing “Partners,” I guarantee you will not look at one of these special dogs the same.