The Search Dogs of Hurricane Harvey


The headlines and videos of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are horrific. Historic flooding displaced over 30,000 residents, damaged or destroyed an estimated 200,000 homes, and has caused up to approximately $180 billion dollars in damage.

On the short term, attention has rightly been focused on the 17,000 rescues that have taken place. When local law enforcement was unable to keep up with the calls for help, the public responded. Regular people, intent on simply saving lives, came from as far away as Florida bringing their own boats to put into the flood waters. People laid their lives on the line to save strangers and their pets. It’s been uplifting to watch these rescues and is a wonderful reminder that even during times of political chaos when every news story seems dark and foreboding, the human spirit continues to successfully rise to the challenge.

As in any natural disaster in modern times, search-and-rescue dogs have responded to Hurricane Harvey and will continue to do so over the coming weeks. The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) had ten teams dispatched to their San Antonia base of operations or on their way the day the hurricane made landfall. Within days, another four teams were activated, bringing the total number to fourteen, with teams responding from California, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah. As the water receded, the teams moved in, looking for anyone trapped who had been missed by rescuers in the initial rescues. It's incredibly hard work for the teams, but there is no question that lives have been and will be saved because of their presence on the ground.

SDF Mike Stornetta and Rocket.jpg

A heartwarming story about one of the SDF search-and-rescue K-9s has recently come to light out of Harvey's news cycle. Rocket, a border collie, was nearly euthanized at a shelter for being too high energy. But an SDF canine recruitment volunteer recognized something special in Rocky. He wasn’t right for search-and-rescue, but he might make a good agility dog, so she and her husband, an SDF handler himself, adopted Rocket. Within a year, however, Rocket was showing signs of being an ace search-and-rescue dog, so the SDF took him on and partnered him with Windsor Fire Engineer Mike Stornetta. Now the dog that nearly died because of his energy and drive is now using those same characteristics to save lives in Texas. Mike and Rocket were deployed to Wharton, Texas, and have been doing grid searches of flooded houses in conjunction with other task forces. Sometimes, an intuitive eye is what it takes to change and save lives, and Rocket is a prime example of this. We wish Mike, Rocket, and the other teams on the ground in Texas the very best of luck.

Photo credit: National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

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Teaming Dogs and Drones to Find the Missing

Before we start into today’s blog post, I just wanted to let you all know that LONE WOLF, the first book in the FBI K-9s series, is out today in mass market paperback. Prefer to read print and were curious about the series, but thought the hardcover was too pricy to try? This is your chance to jump into the series for a cheap and cheerful price. You can find it at local booksellers as well as, ,, and It’s a great time to jump into the series as BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE will be released in just four weeks!

REDOG and drones.jpg

A recent news story caught my attention for numerous reasons. Not only did it involve a real-life search-and-rescue dog team, but it also involved drones. For those of you who have read LONE WOLF, you know we used drones as a method to deliver chaos and anarchy in the form of high-energy explosives, leading to death and destruction. But this story is quite different.

The Swiss Association of Rescue Dogs (REDOG) was officially founded in 1971, but the use of mountain rescue dogs in Switzerland has been going on for centuries for avalanche rescues and to find missing climbers. Now one of the foremost rescue groups in the world, REDOG currently has 650 members and 500 active rescue dog teams, and is known for both it’s wilderness and urban disaster training. They deploy both nationally—where approximately 3,000 people go missing each year—and internationally, responding to natural disaster and missing person calls.

Recently REDOG has teamed up with the Swiss Federation of Civil Drones and this combination uses the best skills of each group to facilitate searches. Drones—often pilot-controlled octocopters which can cover distances up to five kilometers at 100km/hour—are used to search mountainous terrain which would be unsafe for both the dog and handler, as well as being able to cover open spaces encompassing large areas with high definition visuals that are then reviewed by a search specialist. If a victim is found, rescuers are sent in to that specific location. If evidence of a victim is found, search-and-rescue dog teams can be dispatched for a more localized search.  

The benefits of the two groups working together is clear. Combined searches are more efficient and save time and resources overall, significantly cutting down average rescue times.

In a turnaround from how drones were used in LONE WOLF, they are again used in our now drafted manuscript for the third book in the series. The book starts as we drop Meg and Hawk into a post-hurricane search-and-rescue mission, and it’s a shock for Meg to hear drones in the air when she’s been conditioned to recognize them as deadly. But in this case, as we are sadly seeing right now in Texas, drones can safely fly over flooded areas and can send back specific images to help pinpoint searches, potentially saving lives when time is of the essence.

Photo Credit: REDOG

The Truth About Dog People

I’m back! Sorry the hiatus has been so long, but I had to have my head down drafting the third book in the FBI K-9s series. The great news there is that the first draft of the book is complete, but I’ll get into that more next week when I catch everyone up as to where I am now and outline my schedule for the fall.

Today though, I have a really fun infographic to share. The nice folks at contacted me and asked if I’d like to share this infographic with my readers. And because so many of you are dog owners and lovers, I thought it might be a fun post as I’m ramping back into my regular blogging routine. There are some points that definitely ring true for me. How about you?

Canine DNA Profiling

Ann and I are back to blogging now, but we're also shifting back into more forensics-related posts as we're moving toward the release of LAMENT THE COMMON BONES, book five in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. Today, we're looking at a topic that spans our two series as we examine the forensic technique which recently saved the life of a service K-9.

DNA profiling has been used in law enforcement, medical examiners, and archeologists for humans for decades. DNA is used for profiling both victims and suspects in crimes, for identifying the dead after mass disasters, and tracing family lineages through mitochondrial DNA. But the same techniques can be used for other species.

Recently a case came to light of a Belgian Malinois service dog named Jeb who was sentence to be destroyed after he was convicted of killing a neighbour’s dog, Vlad. He was not actually witnessed killing the 16-pound Pomeranian, but he was found by the late dog’s owner standing over the body of the dead dog. While not definitive, it certainly didn’t look good for Jeb. He was taken into custody by Animal Control and a judge was appointed to hear the case. After hearing testimony, including how the neighbour was scared by the large dog because ‘he always barked’, the judge made the reluctant decision to designate Jeb as a ‘dangerous animal’. As a result, he had no choice but to call for the dog’s death.

However the owners, Penny and Kenneth Job, never believed for a moment that their dog was capable of such a violent act. They had adopted Jeb after he’d been rescued as an abandoned pup in Detroit by their daughter, Kandie Morrison. Morrison worked for a local rescue group, but quickly recognized that the young Malinois would make an excellent service dog for her father, as United State Air Force veteran with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a neurodegenerative disease. With the help of a local veterinarian, Jeb was trained into a gentle, dependable service dog to help support Ken Job and to be there for him if he falls.

The accusation of Jeb being the cause of Vlad’s death didn’t make sense to the Jobs. This simply wasn’t the dog they knew and who lived with three dogs and seven cats in complete peace. Rather than simply taking the heartbreaking news at face value, they took matters into their own hands. While they had previously believed Vlad had been cremated following the investigation, they discovered during the course of the trial that his body was instead frozen. They had argued during the trial that a stray dog had been seen in the area around the time of the killing, and the area was populated with wild foxes, but now they had a chance to scientifically prove Jeb’s innocence. They swabbed the inside of his cheek and arranged for samples to be taken from Vlad’s wounds for comparison at the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The Jobs were thrilled when the results came back vindicating their dog. Yes, Vlad has been killed by a dog, but not by Jeb. Shortly after, Jeb was released and returned to his loving family and crucially important life of service. DNA had proven his innocence, exonerating him just as it can exonerate innocent human convicts.

DNA analysis is not a regular part of canine cases, even those that call for the destruction of an animal. But the $460 spent by the Jobs definitely decided the case and saved the life of their beloved pet and helpmate. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about animal cases in the same light—when a life hangs in the balance, isn’t it worth ensuring that justice is being done? $460 doesn’t seem like that high a price to pay to avoid an innocent paying for a crime he didn’t commit.

Photo credit: CNN

K-9 Breeds: Labrador Retrievers and Bloodhounds

Three weeks ago, we shone a spotlight on Bretagne, the last known surviving 9/11 search-and-rescue dog, who died this past year. This week on the blog, we’re going to start a series of posts about typical (and some less-than-typical) K-9 dog breeds, starting with Bretagne’s retriever family and moving onto a number of other well-known breeds including German shepherds, beagles and pit bull type dogs.

Labrador Retrievers: These dogs are bred in three main colours—black (better known as black Labs), yellow (better known as golden retrievers) and brown (better known as chocolate Labs)—but all three colours are well suited to be working dogs. They are noted for low levels of aggression, therefore they are not used for suspect apprehension or patrol. However, this personality trait makes them extremely suitable as search-and-rescue dogs. Additionally, these dogs have a very strong sense of smell, which is why they were originally used as retrieving dogs during the hunt. In the modern working dog world, that keen sense of smell is used for suspect tracking and arms, drugs, explosives, accelerant, and general object detection. Retrievers are excellent air scent and/or trailing dogs.

Bloodhounds: Bloodhounds were originally bred for hunting, but they became one of the oldest breeds to be used in police work. Since the Middle Ages, these dogs have been renowned for their skill in human tracking. Many find them comical looking, but their physiology actually aids in their work since their floppy ears and loose skin help in scent gathering. They are able to follow days-old scent over long distances, which makes them useful while tracking suspects, lost children, and missing pets. Bloodhounds can be willful and sometimes difficult to train, but a trained bloodhound is a huge boon to any law enforcement agency or search-and-rescue group fortunate enough to have one.

Next week, we’ll be back with what most people recognize as a police dog—the German shepherd and it’s close relative, the Belgian Malinois.

Photo credit: Stannate and John Leslie

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LONE WOLF is now out! Don’t miss this chance to start a great new series. It also makes a fantastic holiday gift for the dog or mystery/thriller lover in your life! You can find it as these fine retailers in hardcover, ebook and audiobook formats:,,, Chapters/Indigo, B&N, BAM, IndieBound, Target, Walmart, Hudson Booksellers.

Modern Working Dogs

Over the past few blog posts, we’ve talked about the history of working dogs and even the career of one specific WWI hero. Today we’re going to talk about modern working dogs, briefly looking at some of the crucial jobs they do today. Then, in the future, we’ll look at these jobs in more detail.

Military K-9s: Dogs have become a day-to-day part of battalion life for many of the services. They are used for patrol/sentry duty, explosives detection, drug detection, finding fallen soldiers, and signaling enemy approach. They also fulfill an important role as therapy dogs.

Police K-9s: Most modern police dogs are trained for one task such as search-and-rescue, detection of explosives, drugs, arson, or electronics, patrol, and cadaver detection. A very few dogs cross-train; for example search-and-rescue dogs who also do tracking. Detection dogs (drug, arson, electronic, explosives, etc.) are generally trained in just a single odor category, but within this one area, they learn to recognize hundreds of related scents.

Search-and-Rescue (SAR) K-9s: Some of these dogs come from official groups (e.g., law enforcement), but many SAR teams are volunteers who are part of state or national SAR groups. SAR dogs are involved in finding anyone from lost children or hikers, to drowning victims, to victims of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. These dogs include those trained to air scent, as well as dedicated tracking dogs. More on that next week.

Therapy K-9s: Therapy dogs are selected based upon temperament, appearance, and aptitude. Some dogs are trained to be comfort animals for the elderly, the sick, victims of domestic violence, or for stressed-out university students—my own university has dogs brought in for this purpose during exams, and Ann has Kane,  a working therapy dog who visits an AIDS hospice, a domestic violence shelter, and an adult day care facility. Therapy dogs must be tolerant of other animals on-site—other therapy or service animals, pets, etc.—and be willing to endure touches or hugs from total strangers.

Service K-9s: Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners and strangers. Cancer detection dogs in medical facilities can detect traces of cancer in patients long before diagnostic tests are accurate. Diabetes or epilepsy dogs are trained to detect low blood sugar levels or impending epileptic seizures so they can alert the owner or a caretaker to get help if the owner is unable to respond. Hearing assist service dogs are trained to alert owners to doorbells and ringing cell phones. PTSD dogs can recognize moments of stress in their owners and can often avert that reaction by their presence and “covering their 6”.

As you can see, these dogs are dedicated, incredibly smart, well-trained animals, who can make life and death decisions and real-time differences for their owners and the public on a daily basis. Next week, we’re going to start looking more at search-and-rescue teams, just like Meg Jennings and her black lab, Hawk, in our upcoming release LONE WOLF.

Speaking of LONE WOLF, our publishing house, Kensington, is very generously giving away 25 copies before LONE WOLF’s November 29th release. For your chance to enter the October 12 – 19th giveaway, follow the link here: Not a Goodreads member? Sign-up is easy and free! Good luck!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons and Ann Vanderlaan

Canine Highlight – World War I’s Sergeant Stubby

We’re starting a new type of post this week: the canine highlight. We’d like to bring to your attention some particularly outstanding working dogs who have shown as much courage as their human counterparts, saved lives, and significantly affected those around them in the most positive of ways. This week, we bring you the amazing tale of Sergeant Stubby.

In last week’s post, we talked about working dogs through the ages.  We mentioned the working dogs of World War I, concentrating on the medical aide dogs that were sent out onto the battlefields after the cessation of fighting to bring supplies to those in need. But there were other dogs as well who joined the cause—and one of those was Sergeant Stubby.

When a young bull or Boston terrier mixed breed dog wandered onto Yale University campus and into the training grounds of the 102nd Regiment, 26th Infantry Division, Corporal John Robert Conroy took a liking to the little mutt. He started feeding the stray and even let him sleep in the barracks. Eventually, Stubby became the Division mascot, spending so much time with the men that he learned all the marching maneuvers, and even was trained by Conroy to salute with his paw.

When the 26th Infantry Division was shipped out to France aboard the SS Minnesota, Conroy smuggled Stubby aboard, and then tried to keep his presence hidden. Eventually, the dog was discovered by the commanding officer. However, Stubby won the officer’s goodwill by saluting him, and was then allowed to stay with the Division openly.

Stubby accompanied the 26th to the Western Front in France, where he proved to be an invaluable part of the unit. After nearly being killed early on by mustard gas, he became adept at stiffing it out early and running up and down the trenches barking at the men to put on their gas masks before going to hide himself. His extremely sensitive hearing was also a boon—he could hear incoming shells long before the men and warned them to take cover, and he could hear the approach of advancing German foot soldiers and warned the sentries of the imminent attack. He was also known to scour the territory of “No Man’s Land” following any fighting, looking for fallen Allied soldiers in need of rescue. Stories of the time reported that he would only respond to the English language, thus avoiding the wounded Germans altogether. His actions in the unit saved countless lives.

During the Meuse-Argonne campaign in 1918, Stubby discovered a German spy in their midst, mapping the Allied trenches to take the intelligence back to the Central Powers forces (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria). When the spy tried to make a run for it, Stubby went after him and brought him down, and then clamped his jaws around the man’s rear end until soldiers from his own unit came to take the spy into custody. The unit’s commanding officer was so impressed with his performance that the dog was battlefield promoted to the rank of sergeant. This meant that he actually outranked his owner, Corporal Conroy.

Stubby took part in seventeen battles and four major offensives on the Western Front, and was the recipient of the following medals and devices for his service in battle: 3 Service Stripes, Yankee Division YD Patch, French Medal Battle of Verdun, 1st Annual American Legion Convention Medal, New Haven WW1 Veterans Medal, Republic of France Grande War Medal, St Mihiel Campaign Medal, Purple Heart, Chateau Thierry Campaign Medal, and the 6th Annual American Legion Convention.

Following the war, Stubby went to Georgetown University with Conroy while he studied to become a lawyer. While he was there, Stubby became the mascot of the football team and was infamous for coming out during the halftime break and pushing a football around the field with his nose to the delight of the crowds. He was inducted into the American Legion, marching in all their parades, and even met Presidents Wilson, Coolidge and Harding at the White House.

You can still see Sergeant Stubby today. Following his death in 1926 at approximately ten years of age, he was taxidermied by Conroy and gifted to the Smithsonian in 1956. He is now part of one of their World War I exhibits at the National Museum of American History. His WWI uniform, complete with all his medals, is on display at the Hartford State Armory.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons and Smithsonian National Museum of National History

Working Dogs Through The Ages

In last week’s post, we talked about how dogs moved from hunting competitors to become an integrated part of our society. For many of us in the modern age, we look on dogs as companions and family pets, but dogs have been considered working animals for thousands of years.

Specifically, how have dogs worked with us to improve our lives and livelihood through the millennia?

  • Greeks and Romans: Molossus dogs (forebears of modern mastiffs) were bred for war, protection and hunting.
  • Vikings: Native Arctic wolves were interbred with domestic dogs producing a ‘spitz-type’ dog related to the modern Norwegian elkhound. Dogs were used for cattle herding, and for hunting moose and bear.
  • Spanish Conquistadors: Mastiffs were carried on ships to the New World, where they were armored and used as battle dogs used to pursue, disembowel and dismember the enemy.
  • American Civil War: Cuban bloodhounds (a mastiff breed used as killer pursuit dogs) were used to track escaped slaves at the Confederate Andersonville prison.
  • World War I: ‘Mercy’ dogs were sent out onto the battlefields with first aid packs after battles for soldiers to self-treat their injuries. Dogs were also used for personal protection and tracking.
  • World War II: For the first time, dogs were used in modern military service with a single handler to search out and signal danger, carry messages between foxholes, and patrol for the enemy.
  • Vietnam War: It is estimated that approximately 5,000 dogs served in the Vietnam War as scouts, trackers, sentries, and were also used for explosives and tunnel/booby-trap detection. It is believed that military dogs saved up to 10,000 lives during the Vietnam War.

Next week we’re going to highlight a very special historical dog, Sergeant Stubby from World War I. Then later on, we’re going to look at the roles of dogs in modern life, from war, to police work, to search-and-rescue, to service and therapy dogs. Hope to see you back again.

**Last week to enter!** To celebrate the upcoming launch of LONE WOLF, Kensington is holding our first Goodreads giveaway! You can find it below. Be sure to enter for your chance to win an early copy months before it actually releases!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Lone Wolf by Sara Driscoll

Lone Wolf

by Sara Driscoll

Giveaway ends October 02, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

A History of Man’s Best Friend

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘man’s best friend’ in reference to dogs. Dogs are our working partners, guides, guards, and family, but how did that connection between canines and humans come about?

Dogs, as we know them in the modern sense, branched off from the wild wolves in modern Asia, Europe, and the Middle East about 25,000 to 38,000 years ago, toward the end of the last Ice Age. This time period means that these animals co-existed with man during his hunter-gatherer stage, immediately preceding the development of agriculture. Of all domesticated animals, dogs were the first to be domesticated in approximately 13,000 BCE, a full 4,000 years before the next domesticated animal, the sheep. Notably, the dog was the first species to have a reciprocal relationship with humans.

How did this change in relationship status move dogs and humans from competing hunters to partners on a common team? No one knows for sure, since this was long before recorded histories, but genetics and early art tell a convincing tale. It is most likely that wild dogs were attracted to cooking fires of men and the smell of roasting meat. They would also be drawn by the smell of discarded animal carcases and at first were likely raiders, pillaging any unattended or discarded meat. The key to this early relationship was the type of animals attracted to human societies: these animals were generally less aggressive and were likely the non-dominant pack members with a lower flight threshold—in other words, ideal animals for domestication. Genetically, this interaction coincided with a morphological change in the canine skull, specifically the development of a shorter snout with fewer, more crowded, and smaller teeth—all physical characteristics associated with reduced aggression.

The relationship between man and dog was commensal to begin, meaning that while it was opportunistic for the dogs, it didn’t affect the humans in any way. But their interaction became mutualistic—a relationship good for both species—as humans took advantage of the dogs’ specific skills in hunting and protection, and then adapted new skills such as herding.

An alternate theory suggests that dogs exploited an earlier mutation to be able to digest starches and carbohydrates, something wolves are not able to do. This change occurred just as man was discovering the advantages of agriculture, allowing the dogs to feed off scrap heaps more efficiently. Interestingly, humans adapted to starch digestion at nearly the same time in an intriguing twist of parallel evolution.

Over the centuries and millennia, selective breeding by humans developed dogs into the modern species we know today. Much of modern breeding revolves around appearance, however early domestication selected almost exclusively for behavioural traits. In fact, scientific studies show there was a genetic selection for adrenaline and noradrenaline pathways leading to tameness and a greater emotional response in the animals. This helped to create the domesticated, loyal, connected personalities we recognize in our dogs today.

Please join us next week as we come back looking at the role of working dogs from the Romans and Vikings onwards.

To celebrate the upcoming launch of LONE WOLF, Kensington is holding our first Goodreads giveaway! You can find it below. Be sure to enter for your chance to win an early copy months before it actually releases!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Lone Wolf by Sara Driscoll

Lone Wolf

by Sara Driscoll

Giveaway ends October 02, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Photo credit: Fugzu and Elizabeth Tersigni