Remembering K9 Redden

One year ago today we lost K9 Redden. He was struck by a vehicle, ending his lilfe and his search career much too soon.

I am not going to lie, remembering stinks. It hurts. It is very very sad.

K9 Redden  [Photo by Tracy Darling]

K9 Redden  [Photo by Tracy Darling]

But, it definitely makes it a little more bearable when I think of everything we have accomplished over the past year in his memory.

Join us in celebrating some of Calvary Canine’s proudest accomplishments!            

  • Creating the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship to provide real-world training opportunities for search dogs.
  • $10,870 in donations raised to support the training scholarship and provide equipment.
  • 6 - $500 training scholarships awarded to date.
  • 2 rounds of scholarship applications completed, with the third currently in progress (click HERE to apply).
  • 3 scholarship recipients have attended their scholarship-funded training and demonstrated their dedication to their K9 partner’s success and the mission of search and rescue.
  • 6 new pairs of Rex Specs donated to teams deployed to the 7.1 Mexico earthquake.

We have also celebrated our new puppy’s first birthday this week. While looking for a photo of Oma to share, I came across this one from a recent training. The similarities to the photo used during the search for Redden (see above) caught me off guard for a moment.

K9 Oma  [Photo by Joan Brehm]

Unbeknownst to me, during the days Redden was missing, this little girl was born. Coincidence? Universe? God?

Having just celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, we remembered those who sacrificed and honored their legacy. In this spirit, we here at Calvary Canine are extremely grateful to all of our donors and supporters who have helped us create the scholarship in Redden’s memory and who have joined us in honoring the hard work and dedication of search and rescue K9 teams across the country by bringing awareness and resources to their important work.

We hope you will continue to follow Calvary Canine over the next year as we continue the mission of bring critical support to search and rescue dogs.

Interested in joining our efforts? Learn more HERE.

Out of sight, out of mind

Oh, how quickly we forget. Just a few short months ago, every media outlet and social media platform was reporting on the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Harvey on Houston and surrounding areas. Before the residents of Texas could all be rescued, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, Puerto Rico, and neighboring islands leaving record flooding and devastation in its wake. But Mother Nature’s tantrum was far from over. Wildfires ran rampant out west burning homes and destroying crops and ranches. Not to mention, the 7.1 earthquake that rocked Central Mexico.

But here we are, just a few short months from Harvey’s first landfall, and comparatively speaking, it is radio silence. In today’s times, media moves at the speed of light and has been given the power to shape what society sees, hears and subsequently devotes their attention to.

They’ve moved on, so we’ve moved on.


But take a moment and think back.

When images of elderly citizens sitting in their wheelchairs stranded waist-deep in water crossed your computer screen, were you horrified? When stories of teenagers using their fishing boat to rescue their neighbors made it in your Facebook feed, were you inspired? When you heard a gospel choir leader lift spirits at a Conroe Texas shelter with her angelic voice, did you too feel your hope renewed?

Did the actions of our fellow countrymen and women ignite a fire in you to be more? To do more? Did you hear a little voice in your head or have a tug in your heart that said you had something more to give?

Before we get caught up in the next political battle or Kardashian escapade, I challenge you to not let our high-speed news cycle and the latest Facebook algorithm put out that fire. Do not let it silence that voice.

Each and every one of you brings something special and unique to this world. There is no other person who has the exact same background, passions, and talents as you.

As those impacted by all this recent devastation begin the long road of rebuilding, it is our time to begin service to our community.

Were you inspired by the work of a particular volunteer organization? Contact them to see how you can join.

Did you envy the impact someone was able to make from their place of employment and have you been looking for a career change? Research what jobs are available.

Perhaps you realized that your prayers have been focused inward and you vowed to express more gratitude and consideration for others. Keep that pledge.

When you heard about the money raised to support victims, did you realize you have a higher capacity for giving? Donate to a group you believe in.

I don’t know what exactly inspired you or what calling you felt, but I am quite certain that during the course of our country’s recent struggles it happened, and probably not for the first time.

I implore you to make this time different. To make this time count. To make this time be the time you step up. So, the next time disaster strikes, you will not be sitting there wishing there was more you could do. You will have acted and prepared yourself and you will be ready to serve.

If the efforts of the Search & Rescue dogs and their dedicated handlers is what grabbed your heart, I invite you to learn more by following our blog and join Calvary Canine in our mission to provide these special dogs the training and equipment they need to perform their life-saving work.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make a difference that you have lived and lived well. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Crossing Borders

[Photo above provided by Rex Specs K9]

On September 19th, Mexico was rocked by a 7.1 earthquake creating havoc and trapping many under the wreckage and debris. Aftershocks followed, only worsening search conditions. Search and rescue handlers and their K9 partners responded to the call.

K9 Hunter - Coyote tan Rex Specs with smoke lens

K9 Hunter - Coyote tan Rex Specs with smoke lens

Calvary Canine was also called upon when we learned that a representative from the Mexican government was reaching out to American retailers looking for eye protection on behalf of the search dogs. The hazardous environmental conditions were causing great concern for K9 eye injuries among the handlers that didn’t have eye protection for their dogs, and those that were using K9 eye protection were in need of replacement lenses due to damage from the debris. They had exhausted the local retail supply and were desperate for assistance.

On Monday, September 25th, Calvary Canine partnered with Superfit Canine, an authorized Rex Specs retailer, to send 6 new pairs to Mexico to be used by teams tasked with searching the rubble for those trapped below.

We are proud to be able to help K9 handlers and their dogs with their time-sensitive equipment needs and ensure they could safely complete their mission. But Calvary Canine wants to be proactive. Our mission is to provide equipment and training to search dogs that will help them be safe and successful when deployed out in the field. And we need your help to do it!

The earthquake in Mexico is just one example in the last few months where search dogs have been deployed in response to a natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria have devastated numerous cities, impacting hundreds of thousands of people. In a time where our country is divided on so many issues, we know that when a person is trapped under the rubble, praying to be found, search dogs do not define them by race, creed, or color, but rather by their humanity and their need for help.

Calvary Canine honors all the search dogs and their handlers who have spent years training, sacrificing time away from their families, and upwards of $10K a year of their own money to keep their dogs mission ready. Whether they are deployed with a federal task force, regional response team, or foreign government. Whether they locate trapped survivors or help bring closure to the families of those who were not as fortunate. We are here to ensure that each and every one of them receives the training and equipment they need to be ready when they are called upon.

That is why Calvary Canine feels privileged to be able to step up when these search dogs needed our support.

We encourage you to learn more about how you can support search dogs and their life-saving work by visiting our website. 

Read  this K9 Cop Magazine article about Mexican Navy K9 Frida and see Rex Specs in action.

Read this K9 Cop Magazine article about Mexican Navy K9 Frida and see Rex Specs in action.


Interested in purchasing a pair of Rex Specs? Superfit Canine, our partners in supporting the Mexican search dog teams, offer the full Rex Specs line along with other great search dog gear.

My Next Dog

Training through a challenging behavior can take weeks, months, or even years. Frustrated dog trainers can be heard saying “My next dog!”

More accurately, it is "My next dog won’t…"

Sometimes it is said in a grumble under their breath. Sometimes it is hollered out as a sworn testimony. Sometimes it is even said in a resigned laugh.

I have said it over the years. As different K9 partners have come into my life and I have faced training challenges, I have created a personal "my next dog won't list".

June 2015 - K9 Redden (brown collar) napping with his littermates 

June 2015 - K9 Redden (brown collar) napping with his littermates 

Redden has been gone for a little over a month now. When I think back to when I picked him out as an 8-week-old puppy, I know that my next dog won’t list never including things like

My next dog won’t make it to his third birthday.

My next dog won’t grow up to be the great search dog I know he could be.

 But I also know that I never said            

My next dog will garner such love in his short life that people will donate almost $10,000 to support search dogs through the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship.

As I look to the future, I know there will eventually be a next dog. My next search & rescue K9 partner. I will take all I have learned from Redden and honor his memory by being a better trainer and by continuing the work of search & rescue.

But this time things will be a bit different.

The next time you hear me say “my next dog” it will sound more like this

My next dog gets my best efforts as a trainer.

My next dog will be appreciated for the dog they are, not how they compare to others.

Most importantly, my next dog will be treasured and appreciated and loved every single day. Because you just never know when the time will come and you have to look for your next dog.

Join us in honoring Redden's memory by donating to the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship.

Contribute: K9 Redden Scholarship Fund

Searching by Boat

The wind in its invisible splendor
Can tear down the tall oak
And fling its leaves
Into the darkness of night

While water, almost weightless
In tiny drops, can tear down mountains
And the ocean's waves cleaving rocks
Turns them to sand  

-The Power of Water, Ronald Dondiego

When most people think of a Disaster Search & Rescue Dog, an image comes to mind of a dog searching the smoking piles of rubble and tangles of rebar that was the World Trade Center after the attacks of September 11th. What many don’t realize is that the “disaster” in disaster search dog has a far broader meaning.

These dogs answer not only in the aftermath of terror, but to the wrath of mother nature. Events like the EF5 Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011 that left nearly a mile-wide path of destruction or Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast. The depth of training disaster search dogs undergo prepares them for all of these types of scenarios, many of which include a large amount of water, usually from flooding.

For this reason, Calvary Canine provided a new trolling motor and battery to support the boat training Superfit Canine conducted as part of last week’s Disaster K9 Workshop. This training was open to all K9 teams and was held at the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center. Training to search by boat is essential for both live find and human remains detection dogs.

Like we saw in Hurricane Katrina, people sheltered in their attics to escape the rising water. The ability for search dogs to locate people trapped in their attics, unable to escape, is critical to saving lives.

As for the human remains detection dogs, bringing home those who were less fortunate and did not survive the rushing water is equally as important. Communities need to bring all their loved ones home, and often the best way to do this is with search dogs working by boat.

Whether you have specific items you wish to donate or need information on the most pressing needs of K9 teams, Calvary Canine will help you make a difference.   






The importance of travel training for Search & Rescue Dogs - Part 3

On June 1, 2017 Search & Rescue K9 Redden was found struck by a vehicle and killed, ending his search career much too soon. To honor his memory, the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship was created to support Search & Rescue K9 Teams and their important training. This scholarship will provide opportunities for K9 Teams to participate in essential travel trainings away from their home training site. This blog is the third is a series illustrating the importance of these types of trainings.

I was scrolling through Facebook a few days ago and one of those 1.5x speed life hack videos popped up. “25 Things to do with Bread Clips”. Just another random video in my feed compliments of Facebook’s strange algorithm.  I should have just kept scrolling, but I didn’t. I watched all 25 tips. I have seen bread clips used to organize rubber bands, but I never thought stick one under that ever-hard-to-find end of the packing tape or write “printer” and “laptop” on them and use them to label the tangle of cords under my desk. And this wine lover's favorite, using them as makeshift (although slightly hillbilly) wine glass charms to help everyone keep track of their drinks. Pure genius.

I thought bread clips were just little bits of plastic that I stockpiled in a coffee mug. I now know different. Glad I stopped and watched. Thanks to the different perspective, creativity, and willingness to share of a complete stranger on Facebook, the underneath of my desk is now way more organized and I am ready for the next dinner party. I will never look at those little bits of plastic the same again.

Traveling to a new site to train with your search dog is a bit like scrolling through Facebook. You will see some familiar faces and practice exercises you may already know. But, if a handler is willing to “stop scrolling and watch the video” they will have the opportunity to learn new training techniques and be challenged to work their search skills in ways they never thought of. They will be exposed to training approaches that might be the key to addressing that one issue they have been working on or learn how to give their really good dog the opportunity to be great.

This is where the cream really rises to the top. When a handler is brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and challenge not only their dog’s abilities but their handling skills, exceptional Search & Rescue K9 Teams emerge. 

The first in this series described how training at new sites enhances the abilities of the search dog (read HERE). The second shared how the handler can improve their skills out in the field by training at new places (read HERE). What we are talking about now is having training opportunities and receiving feedback and instruction that can change the way a handler approaches their dog’s training.

The types of trainings that the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship supports are hosted by skilled trainers. These workshops may be hosted by one trainer who provides in depth curriculum on their specific training method or they may be led by a group of trainers bringing many approaches to the table. They all offer the opportunity to work in new environments. These events provide a handler with a fresh perspective on their dog’s abilities and celebrate the dog’s strengths and accomplishments. They also provide guidance in developing training plans to address areas that could be improved and the chance for a K9 team to work real-world scenario based search problems.

In other words, travel training is the best opportunity a K9 team will get to work through the novel challenges presented in a deployment and is absolutely essential to the training of Search & Rescue dogs.

So, while a travel training is a more expensive than a plastic bread clip, and requires a bit more effort than watching a video, the benefit is immeasurable.

We hope this 3-part series has helped you understand why the efforts of the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship are so important. We believe in supporting the hard work and dedication of these Search & Rescue K9 Teams and assisting them in getting the specialized training they need.

Contribute: K9 Redden Scholarship Fund

The importance of travel training for Search & Rescue Dogs - Part 2

On June 1, 2017 Search & Rescue K9 Redden was found struck by a vehicle and killed, ending his search career much too soon. To honor his memory, the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship was created to support Search & Rescue K9 Teams and their important training. This scholarship will provide opportunities for K9 Teams to participate in essential travel trainings away from their home training site. This blog is the second is a series helping our supporters understand the importance of this type of training.

You know how it is when you wake up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. You stumble out of bed, down the hall, around the kitchen table, get a glass out of the cabinet, and fill it with water. All while half asleep and without turning on the light switch. You don’t run into corners, kick the leg of the table, or trip and fall. You actually could do this in your sleep. Most nights you do. But what happens when you are traveling and you wake up in an unfamiliar hotel room? You stumble over a suitcase, don’t know where the plastic cups are, and really need to turn on the light but you can’t find the light switch.

That’s the difference for a handler between training at home and training at a new site.

When training at home, all your gear is nicely organized and kept in your own personal vehicle. It’s all muscle memory when you grab your leash and collar and toy and take your dog out to run a training problem. You are solely focused on watching your dog’s body language while they search and are analyzing how you think they are working. Sometimes you may even be chatting with your teammates about where to go eat lunch after training. All easy to do when climbing around in the familiarity of one’s home pile. Despite the jagged edges of concrete slabs, twisted rebar, and crushed vehicles wedged in at every angle, an experienced handler finds themselves easily hopping from slab to ledge to vehicle bumper as they follow their dog while he or she searches for a teammate who is hidden in the rubble simulating a person trapped in a building collapse. 

I too have developed the ability to hop around our pile. But just a month ago however, in preparation for a large-scale training exercise our team was conducting, they reconfigured our rubble pile and plopped a large piece of concrete right in the middle of a slab us handers often use to access the pile. From the ground, it seemed pretty innocuous and I gave it no thought as I sent Redden up to work. He shot up on the pile and before I could even clip the leash around my waist he had found the “victim” and was barking to let me know. I jogged up the slab as I had a thousand times, excited to see how he had so cleverly and quickly worked the problem, and…

“What the…”

“Who put this dang piece of concrete in my way!”

As I tried to get past it, one of my cargo pockets caught on a small piece of rebar. I squeezed and wriggled to get around this newly placed road block. I quietly cursed the person who had messed up my nice little path. After a little contorting and rearranging of gear, I made it through and Redden got rewarded. No harm, no foul. It was all probably a little comical to watch, and in training, it was no big deal.

In a real disaster situation though, a handler must be prepared for navigating rubble like this. Unknown paths to cross, crevices to squeeze through, and snag hazards everywhere. A handler must be comfortable working out of an unfamiliar vehicle, or bus, or 4-wheeler. And while in a disaster they won’t be discussing where to go to lunch, it’s MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for everyone out in the field, a handler needs to be communicating what they see to their Search Team Manager, keeping a sharp eye out for dangers like downed electrical wires, and still be watching their dog’s body language and analyzing how they are working.

A handler’s ability to do all this well requires practice, and practice can only occur if a handler trains away from their home pile. Just as I described in the first blog (read HERE) how a dog needs to travel to new piles so they learn to search in any situation at any time, a handler needs to travel so they can practice managing their search dog in unfamiliar environments.

Working out of a rental car at a training site that someone have never been to before helps a handler become more effective in the field. This experience helps them in a real disaster to be able to stay focused on their dog which is the key to finding people trapped under the rubble.

There are no “light switches” a handler can turn on in a real disaster to help mitigate the challenges of working amid all the devastation and destruction. They can only travel and train and travel and train some more to be as prepared as possible for when the call comes in.

The K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship supports these handlers in not only providing excellent training for their dogs, but in their pursuit to be the best handlers they can be.

You can support dedicated and hard-working search and rescue dog handlers and their K9s.

Contribute: K9 Redden Scholarship Fund







The importance of travel training for Search & Rescue Dogs - Part 1

On June 1, 2017 Search & Rescue K9 Redden was found struck by a vehicle and killed, ending his search career much too soon. To honor his memory, the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship was created to support Search & Rescue K9 Teams and their important training.

There is a bump in the road at the base of the exit ramp where we get off to train at our home rubble pile. Redden had been to this training center at least 2-3 times a week for the past two years. I don’t remember exactly how early in his training he began doing it, but he, like all my search dogs in the past, go from quietly laying in their crate while I am driving to standing at full attention and barking with excitement every time we hit that bump.


Because dogs are masters of understanding physical cues. When I point to the ground, that meant lay down. When I started walking to a certain spot on our back porch, that meant it was time for dinner. And when he rode in his crate in the truck and the truck went over this particular bump, it meant GO TIME. He knew that in just a few minutes we would be at our training site where all his friends would play hide-n-seek with him.

In reality, the cue that he was getting ready to do his favorite thing started long before we even loaded in the truck. I put on my dog training clothes, filled up the same water jugs, and put the same set of gear in my truck each time. All of which let him know he would be getting to work soon.

Although not trained cues like pointing to the ground, these cues had been repeated so many times that they had an immense power. They got him mentally and physically primed so when I leaned over his shoulder, whispered “find” into his ear, and released the clasp on his collar, he was off like a rocket knowing that if he worked hard enough and fast enough he would find that person “trapped” under the rubble and he would get to play a game of tug.

So why are travel trainings important?

Because there are no bumps at the exit ramp of a real disaster.

One of the lessons a search dog learns at a travel training is that people can be “trapped” anywhere, anytime. That just because they didn’t go over that bump in the road does not mean they aren’t going to go to work. That any time could be go time.

That is why when the search dogs arrived in Joplin Missouri in the dark wee hours of the morning after a devastating F5 tornado, the dogs went straight to work. And the same for when the dogs arrived at the World Trade Center following the attacks of 9/11, the Oso Washington Mud Slide, and Hurricane Katrina.

We were fortunate. Redden got more travel training than most dogs, but we knew it was never enough. When a person’s life literally depends on the skill and speed of your dog, there is no such thing as being too prepared.

The K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship was created to honor him and to help ensure that search dogs across the country receive the important and specialized travel training they need.

Contribute: K9 Redden Scholarship Fund

Your support of these 4-legged heroes through the K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship is sincerely appreciated!

K9 Redden Memorial Disaster Dog Training Scholarship

On Thursday, June 1, 2017 Search & Rescue K9 Redden was located after being hit by a car. While he did not survive his injuries, his spirit will live on with this scholarship. 

Money donated to this fund will be used to send disaster dogs and handlers to training to help prepare them to save lives when disaster strikes. 

Contribute: K9 Redden Scholarship Fund

Learn more about Redden in our Seat 1D blog.

K9 Redden  4/9/2015 - 6/1/2017

K9 Redden  4/9/2015 - 6/1/2017

Seat 1D - Passion at 10,000 feet

Seat 1D chronicles the gifts of inspiration, connection, and reflection given to me by the most unlikely of people that fate places next to me during my many flights traveling around the country training with my Search & Rescue dog Redden.

Not that kind of passion! Come on folks, this a dog blog after all. I know what you were thinking.

No, this is about real passion. The kind that sets your heart on fire.

On this particular trip, Redden and I were taking a more circuitous route to get home making our way from Norfolk to Kansas City via Orlando. I know, through Orlando? I don’t understand the logic either. But if you haven’t caught on, I am a huge Southwest fan. They take such good care of Search & Rescue dogs that I was willing to take this roundabout way home.

Redden and I are settled in our regular seat in the bulk head row across from the door. I am in the middle seat and the flight attendants have offered the window seat to stay open so Redden has more floor room. In strolls a man in his mid-40’s. He is relatively tall, confident. I have sat by this kind before. Young business execs. Space takers. Arm rest hoggers. Ugh.

You would think by now with my past Seat 1D experiences I would have learned to not judge a person at first glance, especially on an airplane. But at this moment I know I will not be getting a nap so I turn and say hello and meet Will.

I ask the standard question “You heading home or heading out?”

Heading to my second home he says. I go down to a place in Florida most weekends where a group of us train for competitive wingsuit flying.

Well this is not an answer I have gotten before. My curiosity is piqued.

What I think I actually said out loud was “Wow! How did you get into that?”

One year for his birthday he decided to skip the traditional dinner party and do something different. He gave wingsuit flying a whirl…and the rest is history.

The rest is history. Whoa, wait a minute. “The rest is history” is my line. I was a poor grad student who felt helpless after 9/11, saw a lady on TV who trained search dogs and had deployed to 9/11, and 15 years later…the rest is history.

Tell me more I ask.

And so he does.

He manages a family business and it is going great and provides him a good living, but it does NOT set his heart on fire. He makes a half-apologetic shrug and says, “Flying does.”

I totally get it.

So, as we make our way down the East Coast, he introduces me to the sport of wingsuit flying. He shows me videos and points out the intricacies of the different wingsuit designs and how they affect your performance in the sky. He enthusiastically tells me about the different competitions, formations, and the ways you can compete and be scored.

I know nothing, absolutely nothing, about jumping out of planes and coordinating myself with others to create the perfect formation. But what I do know is how it feels to be part of something you are passionate about. I know that I consider myself blessed to have found my passion. To have found that thing that does truly set my heart on fire.

My heart breaks for those who don’t have it. Who can’t find it. Who lost it. For there is no greater sense of peace and feeling of purpose then when you have found your passion and are able to so completely immerse yourself in it.

When you have found your one thing, when your heart is on fire, you become the best version of yourself. Not only do you reap the rewards of a joy-filled heart and a peaceful night’s sleep that only comes from doing exactly what you were meant to, but those around you win as well. For if we all could find that one thing, and respect each other’s thing, what an unstoppable force of good our communities would be!

And if you wonder what Redden’s passion is. What sets his four-legged heart on fire? It’s playing tug with his toy. That’s what makes the dogs we pick for Search & Rescue so special. It is their undeniable, unstoppable passion for play. Because of their passion, they will go to the ends of the earth to find that one person trapped under the rubble.


So, while I cannot speak to what is really going on in the mind of a dog, I do know that after a hard day of training where he can search and find that person that will tug and tug and tug some more, Redden too seems to find that sense of total joy. He too is rewarded with a peaceful night sleep.

Narrow it down. Stay on the path where your heart is on fire. Trust it, that is the door.
-Chameli Ardagh

Get ready for some over the top, socially unacceptable, laughing out loud in the next Seat 1D.

 *Names have been altered to protect the privacy of those who unknowing fly with a blogger.

Seat 1D - Being prepared

Seat 1D chronicles the gifts of inspiration, connection, and reflection given to me by the most unlikely of people that fate (or perhaps faith) places next to me during my many flights traveling around the country training with my Search & Rescue dog Redden.

At the November 7, 2001 CMA Awards, country music star Alan Jackson released a new single and asked us all “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” Like millions of Americans across the country, I know exactly where I was. I was working for a large equine veterinary firm in Lexington, Kentucky and we were just pulling onto the Thoroughbred farm owned by one of my favorite clients. The reports on the radio were full of confusion, disbelief, anger, and fear. Those would continue to be the feelings of our nation over the next weeks and months. I remember calling my mom to see if she had heard the news and to hear a comforting voice. I remember sitting that night staring at the TV, numb, watching the news, trying to understand the magnitude of it all. Most importantly, I remember being next to a co-worker that day while we were all gathered at the Keeneland Yearling Sales, and hearing him talk to his best friend’s parents as they told him that they still had not been able to be reached his friend who worked in the Towers. I wondered what could I do. I was a poor college kid with no money to donate. The blood banks were busting at the seams. What? What could I do?

Exactly one year later, God gave me my answer. After the attacks of September 11th, I had moved back home to the Midwest to go to Graduate School. While home on a lunch break, I was watching the local news commemorating the 1st Anniversary of the attacks and there she and her dog were. Missouri Task Force One had been deployed to the World Trade Center to look for survivors and the K9 Handler being featured on the news had been the instructor of the obedience classes I had taken with my dog Ty a few years earlier. Lightbulb! That is exactly how I can help.

After a few phone calls and a visit to meet the team, I found myself with a mentor and began learning to train my first Search & Rescue dog named Calvary. This work would forever change the course of my life. I learned a lot over the next few years. I learned about various training techniques and the importance of timing. I learned about dogs and their drive. I learned about structural collapses and hazardous materials. But most importantly, I learned the importance of being prepared. That you should give 110% in all your training so you are ready when that call comes and you’re asked to do something that literally could mean the difference between life and death for someone. For that one person trapped in the rubble, your actions, your performance, your physical and mental preparation, will be life-changing.  

Well here we are, 15 ½ years later.

Some call it the “Cattle Call”, but thanks to Southwest Airlines open seating policy and their support of Search & Rescue dogs [read more HERE], Redden and I once again find ourselves in the bulk head row, middle Seat 1E, traveling this leg out of Chicago Midway. This is the second leg of my flight and while waiting to board, Redden and his handsome striped-self have again made quite the stir at our gate giving love and snuggles to the masses. I am happy to let him share his love at the gate, but now as I am settled in my seat, the fatigue sets in an I am ready for some down time. As I mentioned in the first Seat 1D-The Best Seat on the Plane, after a hard few days of training I am usually pretty tired, a bit anti-social, and definitely ready for a nap.

Enter this issue’s inhabitant of Seat 1D. Braydon, and his mom Debbie (Seat 2D), were recipients of much of Redden’s attention while we were waiting at the gate. Braydon is a 20-year-old, 6-foot-tall, super happy and gregarious type of kid. The only difference between him and every other 20-something is that God gave Braydon a mind that works a little different than the rest of us. The one part however that works just the same, at least the same as mine, is the unstoppable magnetic pull to dogs.

As they enter the plane, Braydon spots Redden and asks if he can sit next to us. As he starts to settle in, his mom gives me an apologetic smile and says I don’t have to say yes, he can come sit with her. Of course, I have to say yes. For so many reasons, many that were not known to me at the time, I had to say yes. What I will learn later in our conversations though is just how many heart-breaking times people say no.

From the moment our flight takes off until we pull into the gate, Braydon is a nonstop source of stories as he shares with me all the amazing adventures he and his mom have been on, pictures of his cats, his brother, and whatever else he finds on his mom’s phone to show me. He peppers me with questions about search dogs. All this while he is getting a full-blown dose of Redden’s googly eyes requiring Braydon to tell all these stories while simultaneous scratching behind Redden’s ears or patting him gently while he lays his head in Braydon’s lap.

During a short pause in the stories, his mom leans up and tells me that his dad died not too long ago. Now it is just her and Braydon and his brother. Braydon now lives in a group home because she wants him to have some independence should something happen to her too. While she knows this is the right move, this particular home has strict policies on where Braydon can work and volunteer and they are not being cooperative in her efforts to give him the opportunities he wants, especially with animals. She shares that this frustration though is not new. His whole life people have been asking her “why bother?” Why bother taking him on vacation? Why bother going to music concerts? Why worry about his education? It doesn’t really matter, right? I can tell by the look on her face as she is talking that what she really hears is not “IT doesn’t matter.” but rather “HE doesn’t matter.” Well he matters to her. He, as with each precious life God has put on this planet, should matter to us all. As I look down and see the completely happy look on Redden’s face, he most certainly matters to Redden. My exhaustion is now a thing of the past. I no longer want a nap. I want to spend more time with these amazing people. To hear their stories. To learn about the strength of their family. I am thankful for the connection of story that Braydon and his mom have entrusted with me. I am in awe at his natural connection with Redden, and at his quick wit and humor during this long flight. But, our time comes to end. Seatbelts off, cell phones on, and it’s time to go.

As we deplane, Redden and I are the first to head out and walk down the jet bridge. We are about half way down and I hear Braydon holler “Redden, I will never forget you.” Cue the tears. While life has handed this kid a bucket of challenges, he and his mom have taken my Grandma’s advice to heart and made the proverbial lemonade. He is not trapped, life hanging in the limbs, in need of rescue. But all I can think as I look down at my striped companion is “You did it buddy. You made a difference in one person’s life. And that really is the core of what he has been in training for.”

I have now collected my bags, loaded them in the truck, and am on the road. As I am reflecting on my entertaining, educational, and heart-inspiring time with Braydon and his mom it dawns on me. I saw this all wrong. Today wasn’t Redden’s big call, nor was it us who made a life changing impact on Braydon. It was the complete opposite.

Braydon and Debbie, your story, your dedication to each other, your humor and whole-heartedness have forever changed my view of humanity and have made me grateful for the opportunity given to me to meet new people, especially those following in your footsteps in Seat 1D. Braydon, you may not know it, but your big call came today on this flight, and you sir answered it completely. For me, you were life-changing.

So here is what I know. Every day I wake up wondering what should the dogs and I train today to make us better prepared. What I learned, thanks to Braydon and his mom Debbie, is that you never know when that call may come. You may not know exactly how the call will come. But it will come, and you sure hate to not be ready.

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” -Winston Churchill

In the next Seat 1D I will share my experience with real passion at 10,000 feet.

*Names have been altered to protect the privacy of those who unknowing fly with a blogger.



Seat 1D - The best seat on the plane

Seat 1D chronicles the gifts of inspiration, connection, and reflection given to me by the most unlikely of people that fate (or perhaps faith) places next to me during my many flights traveling around the country training with my Search & Rescue dog Redden.

I spend a lot of time above 10,000 feet traveling across the country training with my Search & Rescue K9 partner, Redden. Usually I fly Southwest. Their prices are good, the crew is always extremely courteous (and often entertaining) and they are one of the few airlines that provides specific allowances for search dogs to travel in cabin.

[Read Southwest Airlines Search & Rescue Dog Policy HERE]

Seat 1D is the aisle seat in the first row of each Southwest flight, just opposite the entrance to the plane. I have come to greatly value the diverse inhabitants of this seat. My name is Kathleen and I am Canine Search Specialist for Missouri Task Force One, one of 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces located across the country. We deploy to disasters, whether natural or man-made, to look for survivors trapped in the debris. To prepare for this work, we must keep our skills sharp and train in as many new and different places as possible, and to do this means lots of travel.

To be honest with you, when I am on my way to a training, I am often anxious and distracted as I settle in for my flight. Did I remember all my gear? Did the dog drink too much water on the ride to the airport and will he be able to hold it until we land? Did I turn off the bathroom light? On the flight back home, after a few days of hard training, I am exhausted with hardly enough energy to care if I remembered all my gear or think about out how much water the dog drank. As I board the plane I am usually wishing that the flight won’t be full so I can have the row to myself and maybe take a nap. What I have found though, is that is rarely what I get.

You see Redden is a striking brindle Dutch Shepherd/Belgian Malinios cross who gives fellow passengers this beckoning look that says “Come sit by me. Let me rest my sweet blocky head in your lap so you can scratch behind my ears for the entire flight.” So, despite my use of all the don’t-sit-by-me-tactics [you know the ones-elbows spread over both armrest, intently focused on my phone, making no eye contact] someone will still ask if they can sit next to me. How can I say no? I didn’t buy the whole row. Besides, I can’t blame someone for wanting to sit next to this stunning dog giving them the googly eyes.

And so, I set my anxiousness, my exhaustion, my desire for a nap aside and turn to this person and say hello. And for this simple act I have been blessed time and time again. I used to secretly shake my head at these people. Anyone that ignores my blatant anti-social cues surely won’t make for a good seatmate. What I have come to learn, is that they often make not good, but life-changing seatmates. From the thousands of travelers flying here and there on these days, this one person has been chosen by some higher power and placed right next to me to join me in few hours of uninterrupted human-to-human connection. They have shared with me the most precious parts of their lives. We have discussed the challenges of living a life guided by our passions not our profits. I have been reminded to appreciate the importance of simple acts of kindness and to treasure my loved ones waiting for me when I land. I have also been forced into uncomfortable places of self-examination and reflection that have led to personal growth I never knew was possible.

So, while I am still almost always anxious and often tired when boarding my flights, a part of me now secretly anticipates meeting my next Seat 1D. These people have come to be very special to me and I can’t wait to share them with you.

In the next Seat 1D I will share the story of a very special young man and his devoted mom who helped me realize what my life-long work to help people in their time of their need really means.