King by Larry Nelson / Larry

This week will be 10 years since I lost my Search and Rescue (SAR)partner, King. I found King at Citizens for Animal Protection – A shepherd lab mix. When we first met, he walked over, sat in front of me, and raised his paw. What a dog! What class! I knew he was a smart dog, and I talked with some of my K-9 handler friends, who looked him over and agreed that he might make a good SAR dog. We trained and certified in open field SAR (air and ground scenting). King had one find -a missing Alzheimer’s patient who survived to go home.

I find it hard to think of it as a Master – Servant relationship. I had a wonderful partner; partners shake hands. He complimented me and I complimented him. He actually did the finding, I opened the cans of food (that opposable thumb thing, you know).

He was my comrade. We went out and fulfilled the mission, using our respective skills and strengths. We shared the burdens and the rewards. We shared a poncho on wet and stormy days. He would eat first. After a long day in the field, I would groom him, unmatting his fur, looking for ticks and fleas.

In return, I recieved the caring love and loyalty that no human can give another. I awakened to a thumping tail, big brown eyes, and a confidante who could never betray me.

There was (and still is) a need for good SAR dogs to work collapsed buildings (after an earthquake or terrorist bombing), so we trained to get FEMA certified.

At a training exercise, King fell / bounced about 30 feet off a rubble pile, landing on his back. As the team Vet and I came up to him, he tried to right himself, but yelped and just lay there. We palpated his back, and the back was broken so badly, we could tell the spinal cord had been transected. His hind quarters were paralyzed. The Vet and I just looked at each other, King looked at us, breathing heavily.

We knew he was in pain, and we all knew what had happened. And, we all knew what was needed. I held King’s head and chest, stroking and talking to him as the Vet got out the Euthanizing agents. (Anytime we did a field exercise, the vet came along to provide first aid for the dogs- he could do minor surgery from the kit he carried) King never liked shots, but he was cooperative when the Vet put the IV catheter in his foreleg.

I continued to talk to King as the Vet drew up the meds and King did kind of a head bob. I was crying, team members who had now gathered around were crying; the vet was crying; (as I am now, remembering it) and King licked my face… with all his pain, he was trying to comfort me.

The meds went in and King looked me in the eye as if to say ‘I will be fine, and I will see you later’. With that, he took his last breath, closed his eyes, and went limp.

We took a litter and carried him to my truck. A teammate drove me home, and the team followed. We buried him under a Magnolia tree that shades the yard. Every morning, when I make coffee, I say hi to King and smile, remembering the time when I really felt complete.


See you at the Bridge, King!
Larry Nelson