In late March of 2014, death descended upon the community of Oso, Washington in the form of a massive landslide. Ten million cubic yards of dirt and mud crashed through homes, sweeping a 20-foot-high wall of debris before it and scouring the valley floor. In the cold rain of that morning, an entire community disappeared in a sea of mud. In the desperate hours that followed, rescue crews were able to pull only eight survivors out of the wrecked landscape. And then all became quiet, with the stunned realization that many more people were missing, but none were still living.
This is the moment when the story of A Dog's Devotion begins. The emergency call from Oso went out, and was answered by K9 Search and Rescue (SAR) teams from across the Pacific Northwest. Suzanne, along with her 4-year-old Labrador Retriever, Keb, and her teammate Guy, was one of the SAR teams to respond to this disaster. In this book, readers immediately find themselves on the ground in the cold mud of the Oso Landslide Disaster on the desperate search for the remains of over forty lost souls. In subsequent chapters, readers will accompany Suzanne, Guy, and Keb as they are inserted by helicopter to search high snowfields on Mount Rainier, or as they traverse steep, forested slopes searching for the clandestine grave of murder victims. They’ll join K9 Keb, as her keen nose leads to human remains in the forests of Washington State and as far away as the woods of Scandinavia.
Keb’s story is of a dedicated K9 who can distinguish the scent of the dead from the scent of the living, and who can detect buried bones and even corpses underwater. Readers will follow this intrepid K9 and her teammates as they face the challenges of changeable weather, deep northwest forests, high mountain slopes, and menacing coyotes to find dead bodies, missing hikers, and even the bones of murder victims from long ago. Among their successes: finding multiple victims buried by the 2014 Oso Landslide, solving the mysterious disappearance of women in wealthy suburbs, and finding human bones thought to be forever lost to time. It’s their story about evolving as search and rescue volunteers while overcoming harsh conditions, inner demons, a rust-bound bureaucracy, and back-stabbing teammates. While internal conflicts threaten their larger K9 team, Keb’s training, loyalty, and perseverance inspire them, and help them find the resolve to carry on their service to the community.
Suzanne Elshult has been active in Search and Rescue (SAR) since 2001. She is the President of Cascadia Search Dogs, has held leadership positions with Snohomish County Search and Rescue and Everett Mountain Rescue. She received Washington State Recognition for contributions to the SAR community. Elshult and K9 Keb have searched for missing persons on hundreds of missions in wilderness, disaster, and urban environments. Elshult and Keb are still actively deploying in the mountains and communities of the Pacific Northwest.
James Guy Mansfield, PhD, has been active in Search and Rescue since 2008. With Everett Mountain Rescue, he has deployed on wilderness, disaster, technical rope-rescue missions, and searches for abducted children. Mansfield has managed some of the largest searches in Washington State, and assisted law enforcement on major homicide cases. He has been recognized by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department and the Governor of Washington State for his role on high-profile SAR missions. He is a director of the Washington State Search and Rescue Planning Unit.
NetGalley Review: 5 stars
Last updated on 11 Aug 2022
"This is a great inside look at the Search & Rescue groups and what it takes to dedicate your life to it. The book tells of different searches that Suzanne, her dog Keb, and her good friend and search support partner Guy volunteered on. The Oso landslide was harrowing to read about, with so many lost. It shows the variables between different types of searches and how wound up the searchers can get on the scene. Such an interesting read."—Valerie Shampine, consumer reviewer
NetGalley Review: 4 stars
Last updated on 16 Aug 2022
"Suzanne and her dog Keb do search and rescue in Washington state. I learned that there are different kinds of search dogs. There are some trained to alert on human remains. Air scent dogs “find airborne particles carrying the scent of humans,” searching large areas from 50-100 acres, while trailing dogs follow a scent from, for example, a piece of the missing person’s clothing. Suzanne takes us through her and her S&R dog Keb’s grueling assignments, such as looking for survivors of a landslide, or searches for murder victims and missing hikers. The amazing thing is that these S&R teams are volunteers; no one is paid for the time and effort they put in for searches and training. Unfortunately, some of the teams have a lot of drama, as people who think they have the best dogs or the best training ideas clash with others--very disappointing for those who just want to help, and not be drawn into politics and power struggles. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to review this ARC."—L. Tilden, retired librarian
Last updated on 08 Sep 2022
"Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
Dogs are the best. And combining well trained search and rescue dogs with their handlers and other pros, they make a great team.
Each of the stories in this book show different types of searches the teams participated in. The pictures were definitely an added bonus.
I live vicariously through these SARS teams and their amazing dogs."—Kelly Long, Librarian at Boise Public Library
Last updated on 26 Sep 2022
"This is a really good effort by Suzanne Elshult. My life's work is centered around canines and my love for them. I think sometimes working with them can be romanticized a bit. It's hard work and it is not just playing with dogs all day. This book does a wonderful job showing the reality of dog-related jobs and specifically search and rescue.
The flow is not always perfect but I think that comes with someone who is a rescuer first and a writer second.
This book shows the feeling of finding someone who didn't make it out of a disaster. It shows the hope of finding someone who is still alive. It shows how often you may turn up with nothing on some days. It shows the triumph of the dog when they alert to a potential victim/survivor location and the pride you feel when you find out those alerts have paid off and the emergency workers were able to find something to either give a family closure or reunite them with a loved one.
I have the utmost respect for the people who dedicate so much time and endure such rough conditions all to save someone they likely don't know and never will know personally. This book definitely needed to be written and I'm so glad that Suzanne gave us this gift."—Sue Wichrowski Bernacki, reviewer at Dog Loving Gal
Last updated on 08 Oct 2022
"I learned a lot reading this. The first hand accounts are interesting. Anyone can enjoy this, including those considering working in a k9 unit.
I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!"—Paul V, consumer reviewer