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I confess, I got the idea for this book from my three golden retrievers. One day I took them for a run in the national forest near my home. We drove up the fire trail and came upon a group of men in bright orange vests. "Are those the Search and Rescue dogs?" they asked, spotting my retrievers hanging out the Jeep's window. "Not unless I'm lost in Nordstrom," I joked, knowing they'd mistaken my dogs for the local Kyle-9 unit.
The real dogs arrived and we stayed to watch them go through a training session. That's where the idea for UNFORGETTABLE was born.
Most S & R units are staffed by volunteers. Many are in the police or fire departments, but many others are regular citizens with mountaineering experience, who give their time without pay. This is especially true in smaller towns that can't afford a full-time rescue team.
"Body A or Body B?" are commands Search and Rescue dogs must recognize. Body A-someone who is still alive. Body B-someone who is dead. Within seconds of death, gases lift off the body. People can't detect this smell, but dogs can. Even when a body is underwater these gases wend their way to the surface.
After spending months researching with the S and R units, I was ready to write. I set my book in Hawaii because I love it there and because there are many treacherous cliffs where a car might plunge off. And because volunteers staff the S and R unit on Maui. Thus was born my hero-Greg Braxton-who is out in a storm, training Dodger (named after one of my own retrievers) when he comes upon a car that has gone over a cliff.
What I didn't count on-what no one counted on-was the Oklahoma City bombing. My story had been in the making for over a year and was at the publisher's when the bomb hit.
"My" dogs-the Greater Urban LA Search and Rescue Team were among the first units to Oklahoma City. They were on the Body A command-bark if anyone is alive. The priority those first days was to find anyone who might be saved.
Who can forget those valiant dogs being shuttled from floor to floor, searching for survivors? Yes, there were moments of glory, but there were so many times the dogs passed areas where we knew people had to be.
Sadly, the dogs gave out. Dogs, especially retrievers, are prone to depression. The canine units who were on the scene early were not the ones there at the end. As they helped find live people, their noses couldn't help detecting the dead. As days passed, they smelled fewer live people and it depressed them. Fresh S and R dogs did the final work after it had been determined no one else was alive.
My editor commented on the touching dedication for UNFORGETTABLE. It's a G.K. Chesterton quote: "The best way to love anything is as if it might be lost." Since this is the first book we'd done together, she had no way of knowing that I always use this quote. But this time I added: To the courageous Search and Rescue Teams in this country. Bless the men and women and all the fine dogs who are there when we need them.
Write to me c/o Kensington, 850 Third Ave., NY, NY 10022.
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