I went out on the river and we searched for hours. Each time we got to a certain place on the water, I dipped my head and touched it with my nose. Everyone on the boat knew what that meant. But the tough part for a search team is that you can't confirm anything to the family until the victim is brought up out of the water and identified. Sometimes we find a person, but it isn't the person we thought we were looking for. Sometimes, it is too dangerous to recover the victim and there is nothing you can do. But I'd made a promise and I knew who I had found. I had to figure out a way to gently tell that mom that her son was no longer missing, but he would never come home again.
A few months later, a doctor asked if we thought there was any hope that dogs could detect the scent of human cancers early enough to make a difference. Remembering that recent search and the faith that the river search mom had in what dogs can do, we said we wanted to try. I was the first dog to learn the scent. My last alert, the first day of the research project, everyone was watching me. For the study to move forward, I had to show everyone that a dog could be trained to recognize the scent of ovarian cancer in a urine sample. I thought about the mom saying dogs were her only hope and how much she wanted something good to come from that tragedy. I went into the lab and was given the command to work. I made a beeline across the room and plopped down. When someone said, "show me again", I picked up my paw and smacked it. And I smiled. My hand was sitting on top of the ovarian cancer sample and I knew it.
Today the study has added even more volunteer dogs and we're getting better and better at what we do. I know that what I am doing is significant and I take my work very seriously. Someday, maybe our work will mean an earlier detection and, maybe, a cure.
That day at the river, I was part of a promise to that mom. Her son, Mark, would not be forgotten.
I still do my search and rescue work, too. I went to Joplin to help with the tornado recovery and got a letter from the Governor thanking me. (I couldn't read it and he didn't send treats, so that helps me stay humble.) We were recently on a mission to find a kidnapped teenager and I was reminded of why we train for hundreds and hundreds of hours. There is always another person to be found; another disaster where we know how to help. We respond as volunteers and pay all of the search costs ourselves, but we do this because it's our passion. I love being needed.
Between searches for people and cancer, I like to hang out with people getting chemo treatments. We like to hold hands when they get infusions because they know I'm right there with them and dogs can hope too. When I go to the nursing home, residents love me because I'm cute and I listen when they talk about their beloved dogs waiting at the Rainbow Bridge for them. I have severe hip dysplasia, so I am very empathetic to people with medical problems.
I am hopeful that telling you about the things that matter to me will help you decide to elect me 2013 Hero Dog. Vote daily until July 30th at http://www.herodogawards.org/vote?nominee=95234842 for JohnD. My category is Search and Rescue dog. My charity, The Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve, will receive the prize if I get the most votes. I get the privilege of knowing I helped The Sage Foundation make a difference for other dogs; dogs who served and then needed help when THEY hurt. That's how Sage's spirit lives on, through her Foundation being there to help working dogs when they need expensive medical care. They get well, or better, and they can come back to work or have less pain. Sage would be proud.
Someone dumped me at a shelter when I was a puppy. I want to prove I'm not worthless. My heart is huge and my spirit is boundless. But mostly, I have a mission to fulfill to that mom and The Sage Foundation: I want to make a difference. There will always be HOPE when I am there.