By Kathryn Lilley
Whenever the word “pain” is mentioned, I immediately think of MacGregor, my Dog from Hell. Now don’t get me wrong. I love MacGregor. But he’s one of the world’s most demanding, high maintenance dogs. MacGregor is a ninety-pound, natural born herding type breed, long, lean, and somewhat feral looking. He’s a veritable wolf dog. MacGregor should have been born on a sheep farm, not confined within the gated walls of sedate suburbia. At the very least, he should have been adopted by a marathon runner, not by me, the Original Couch Potato. To keep my hyper-amped dog active enough to satisfy his restless herding breed instincts, I have cycled him through a series of dog walkers, hikers, boot camp drill sergeants, and even one former K9 cop turned dog trainer and psychologist. Their unanimous (and very expensive) verdict: MacGregor is indeed The Dog from Hell.
Dog and I hit our personal nadir last month, while I was recuperating from arm surgery. I wasn’t supposed to move my arms very much, so I had his leash fastened around my waist. (Dog people will guess what’s coming next.) As we passed a nearby house, a golden retriever rushed a fence to lodge her vociferous objections to our presence; then, MacGregor lunged left to argue the point, upending me in the process. The result: several bruised ribs, plus black-and-blue contusions from shoulder to knee. (Fortunately my arms were mostly spared.)
As I was sitting in the doctor’s lab waiting to get a chest x-ray to check for broken ribs, I did some agonized reflection on my relationship with my dog. It seemed that both of us had wound up with a lousy deal in our partnership. What could I do to turn the situation around, short of starting my own sheep farm?
In a moment of desperation, I started thinking outside the box. At some point I stumbled across an interesting site: CARDA, a volunteer search dog organization. If you’re ever lost in the mountains, CARDA volunteers and their dogs are the teams who’ll come looking for you. CARDA services are free of charge to the public and law enforcement. All expenses are paid by volunteers and donations. In each CARDA certified search team, both the human and dog undergo extensive training–it takes three years of training to become certified as a CARDA search and rescue team. Both the human and the dog have to be able to handle the rigorous requirements of search and rescue operations. In a moment of foolhardy optimism about my physical ability to handle hiking anything rougher than a golf course knoll, I submitted an application to CARDA. A friendly-sounding district representative quickly invited me to attend a training class this Wednesday night. (The first class is in Malibu, my kind of place.)
Disclosure: I predict that MacGregor will prove to be a natural as a search and rescue dog, but I’m fairly certain I won’t pass muster as the human half of our equation. The good folk at CARDA may take one look at me and bounce me back to Couch Potato School, to take Remedial Treadmill 101.
But in the end, it’s not important whether the dog and I ultimately graduate as a certified search and rescue team. It’s the journey that’s important. I’ve already latched onto the search and rescue notion as interesting story material. Instead of going to the gym to work out to get in shape for CARDA training, I’ve spent copious amounts of time browsing the web to learn about the culture of search and rescue volunteers (natch, because I like web surfing, not hiking). I’ve discovered all kinds of fascinating stories and camp fire lore about the volunteer search and rescue tradition. However long I survive the training itself, my CARDA experience will serve as research for a new project that’s started bubbling around in my head. For now, I’m calling that project A Working Dog Mystery.
If The Working Dog Mysteries bear fruit, I’ll really owe it all to MacGregor. Or, to put it another way (and misquote the Rolling Stones song):
You can’t always get the dog you want
But if you try sometime you just might find
You get what you need
What about you? Has life ever handed you a lemon in terms of having a challenge or bad experience, and then you transformed that crisis into story material? Tell us about it in the Comments. Thanks!