Good Reading : November 2016
working-dog beginner like me. More Dr Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish than James Joyce’s Finnegans Wa k e . It’s a good thing that Solo’s approach is Seuss-like, because the larger landscape of the missing and dead sometimes keeps me up at night pondering, poking at small details, trying to understand an unknowable plot. As one famous cadaver-dog trainer said, ‘Search is the classic mystery.’ My hobby can raise eyebrows. While close friends and a few of my university colleagues embraced the idea with delight, others cr inged. With some colleagues, I knew better than to mention it. Mostly, they don’t know, as there’s no reason to. One administrator, surprised when ItoldhimIhadtomissan upcoming faculty meeting to take Solo on a last-minute homicide search, came back to me the next day. Perhaps, he suggested with laudable optimism, I could put cadaver-dog work on my curriculum vitae as extension and outreach? I am not sure this peculiar avocation burnishes my academic credentials. I appreciated his willingness to consider it, though. I know cadaver dogs are an esoteric branch off the working-dog tree, as well as an acquired taste. If someone turns up her nose, I change the subject to politics. Academics, of course, don’t have a monopoly on passing judgement. During a moment of calm at searches, sometimes a sheriff deputy or police officer will ask about what I do for a living. When I tell them I teach at a university, some wince as well, eyeing me for signs of effeteness – and weakness. Then, temporar ily at least, we forget about our differences and continue the search, where we are on common ground. Solo has no idea that I have a split life, or that he’s partly the cause of it. Why should he? He’s a dog. He’s unaware that human death and decay cause disgust or ambivalence. For him, death is a tug toy. For me, Solo is the ideal inter mediary between me and death. When we search – but even when we train – he becomes the centre of my universe, narrowing my scope to the area we’re searching. My job is to guide him when needed but let him do his job independent of me, to make sure he has plenty of water and isn’t too close to traffic or a backyard Rottweiler, and to watch him closely the entire time, as he tests the air currents and reacts to them. Looking for a body is an idiosyncratic way of walking in the woods. If I come across a snapping turtle or see an indigo bunting ash in the trees, or if the winter woods open onto an abandoned tobacco barn surrounded with golden beech trees, the pleasure remains, though the reason for being there is a sombre one. And it’s not all beauty out there: The hidden barbed-wire fences, the catbrier and poison ivy, the deadfall, clear cuts and garbage dumps that litter the woods all demand my attention and they get it. Though Solo doesn’t love pushing through briar, other than that, even in junkyards or abandoned homesteads, he enjoys sticking his nose into the dark hollows and spaces created by piles of rusted-out heaps and old foundations. I worry more about copperheads, jagged metal and broken glass than I do about the dangers posed by people, even when a case involves homicide. I do know more about the drug trade in North Carolina than I did before, and I avoid certain truck stops along the I-40 corr idor, even if the fuel gauge is near empty. Overall, the world seems less frightening with a large dog at your side – and that is perhaps especially true when one faces death. For thousands of years, and in numerous religions, from Hinduism in India to the Mayan religions in Mesoamerica, the dead have depended on the continued assistance of canines to help guide them wherever they are going. The Zoroastrians wanted a dog present at BOOK BITE 1 GOOD READING NOVEMBER 2016 47 WHAT THE DOG KNOWS Looking for a body is an idiosyncratic way of walking in the woods.
December 2016 - January 2017