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Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson

In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Susannah Charleson clipped a photo from the
newspaper: an exhausted canine handler, face buried in the fur of his search-and-rescue dog. A
dog lover and pilot with search experience herself, Susannah was so moved by the image that she
decided to volunteer with a local canine team and soon discovered firsthand the long hours,
nonexistent pay, and often heart-wrenching results they face.
Still she felt the call, and once she qualified to train a dog of her own, she adopted Puzzle, a
strong, bright Golden Retriever puppy who exhibited unique aptitudes as a working dog but who
was less interested in the role of compliant house pet. Puzzles willfulness and high drive, both
assets in the field, challenged even Susannah, who had raised dogs for years.
Scent of the Missing is the story of Susannah and Puzzles adventures together and of the close
relationship they forge as they search for the losta teen gone missing, an Alzheimers patient
wandering in the cold, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
From the earliest air-scent lessons to her final mastery of whole-body dialog, Puzzle emerges as
a fully collaborative partner in a noble enterprise that unfolds across the forests, plains, and
cityscapes of the Southwest. Along the way Susannah and Puzzle learn to read the clues in the
field, and in each other, to accomplish together the critical work neither could do alone and to
unravel the mystery of the human/canine bond.
Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the search described in the opening chapter, Gone. What theories did you have
about the missing girl, based on the information you were given? How do Susannahs
experiences compare to the missing-persons dramas that appear so often on television and in
2. As you learned about the process of training a search-and-rescue dog, what lessons seemed
applicable to how we as humans acquire new skills? How does the dogs concept of a job well
done compare to our own?
3. Susannah vividly describes how her instructor helps her confront fear as she is trained to
rappel across buildings. Is this process similar to the one Susannah uses to train Puzzle? What
does Susannahs SAR work prove about communication and building trust?
4. How would you characterize the family that is formed among Puzzle and the pets with
supporting roles, including Blind Scuppy, Focsle Jack, Mr. Spritsl, and Sophie? How do the
pom and golden personalities complement each other?
5. How did Susannahs experience as a pilot prepare her for working with Puzzle? How does
flying help her combine the exhilaration of risk with the need for freedom?
6. What does Scent of the Missing illustrate about the differences between humans and other
animals, and the power that can be tapped when these varied sensory skills are combined in the
name of teamwork?
7. From Miss Celeste (chapter twelve, The Family Story) to six-year-old Braden (chapter
fifteen, This Boy Here), the cases presented by Susannah span a range of typical scenarios
confronted by SAR teams. What common elements recur? How do family situations seem to
affect the fate of the missing?
8. What do you think spurs Susannahs urge to serve in sometimes dangerous situations? What
sets Susannah and her colleagues apart, giving them the courage to excel as rescuers?
9. What aspects of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy did Susannah reveal that you hadnt
considered before? When her assignments involve recovery rather than rescue, how does she
assist in the healing of families and communities? Why is the recovery process important to most
10. Were you surprised to discover that the crews using SAR dogs are unpaid volunteers? How
would the nature of this service change if they received a salary?
11. Susannah chose to wait until the later chapters of the book to tell us about her poor health.
What is the effect of learning these details after we have become familiar with her strengths?
How did the revelations of her personal history enhance your perception of her heroism?
12. What missing aspects of Susannahs life were found even rescued by Puzzle?
13. The book closes with Jimmys rescue. What were the keys to victory in his case? What does
Scent of the Missing tell us about the realities of hope?
14. How are Susannah and Puzzle transformed throughout this memoir? What lasting impact do
they make on each other traits that endure even when they are not working together?
Praise for Scent of the Missing
Scent of the Missing contains wonderful writing about dogs and plenty of powerful,
compassionate writing about the community of mankind. In its telling, it is respectful of life and
celebrates the living. Rick Bass
The transformation of Puzzle the cuddly pup into Puzzle the professional search-and-rescue dog
would be story enough, but Susannah Charleson gives us far more. With lean, lovely prose she
takes us on a clear-eyed, compassionate journey into a mysterious world in which every story
begins as a ghost story. When Charleson turns the search inward, she does so deftly, never
straying more than a leash-length from the heart and soul of this book: Puzzle, and the all-too
mortal ghosts she seeks. Michael Perry, author of Population: 485 and Coop
Scent of the Missing is not only a stay up too late at night story, its a brilliantly written book
that should be on every dog lovers bed stand. Her descriptions of her dogs are laugh out loud
funny, and her use of language is so rich Im not sure if I want to read her book or eat it.
Patricia B. McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog
A fascinating woman, Susannah Charleson, has written eloquently about her fascinating
colleague, a golden retriever named Puzzle, and the critically important search and rescue work
that these two faced together. Scent of the Missing is a clear documentation of the ability of
search and rescue dogs, and a celebration of the human-animal bond. Elizabeth Marshall
Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
A riveting view of both the human animal bond and the training of search and rescue dogs. All
dog lovers and people interested in training service dogs should read this book. Temple
Grandin, author of Animals Make us Human and Animals in Translation
Scent of the Missing is heartwarming, heart-achingly poignant, and riveting from page one.
Puzzle had me from her first joyous wroo! Hallie Ephron, author of Never Tell a Lie
This book is a fantastic discovery! Dog and human decipher each others language and behavior
to solve the mystery of the missing, and along the way find their bonds of love, trust and
friendship grow. I loved this book. Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica and
Copyright 2010 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Discussion questions written by Amy Root.