Although our passion is reptiles, we love all animals, especially dogs. Dogs offer certain benefits that cold-blooded creatures cannot. And we recently discovered another of those advantages.
The other morning when Chuck asked me if he could borrow my cell phone, then took it outside, I immediately guessed his mission. “Did you find your phone?” I asked when he returned.
He shook his head. “I looked everywhere — in the car, in the truck, in the fifth wheel, and even all around our site.” Even though he wasn’t sure whether he’d left the phone on “ring” or “vibrate,” he’d called his number and listened for a ring. He found nothing. Losing a cell phone can be inconvenient and costly, but losing the numbers in the phone can be more of a problem.
Since he’d been working at the National Elk Refuge headquarters the day before, Chuck took off in the car, along with my phone, to search those grounds. But once again he returned with only one cell phone.
“The only other place it could be is in Curtis Canyon,” he said. The night before, we’d driven 10 miles up Curtis Canyon behind the Refuge to spot animals and to check out a memorial honoring a plane for President Clinton’s Secret Service vehicles that had crashed on Sheep Mountain in August, 1993. It was in this area that we had left the car and wandered about, reading the plaque and enjoying the scenery. Few tourists know of this remote area, and most locals frequent it only on weekends.
Because we were committed to other obligations the rest of the morning, we couldn’t return to Curtis Canyon until afternoon. As we ate our lunch, the Refuge maintenance specialist, Amanda, called. “I heard about your phone,” she said. “Why don’t you take Roscoe with you this afternoon?”
A trained search and rescue dog, Roscoe is Amanda’s golden retriever. He can detect items as small as a quarter, and he recently located the Refuge biologist’s wallet lost in a field. In the past he’s found two poachers hiding in a tree on the Refuge, as well as lost hikers and dead bodies in the mountains.
After being instructed on commands to work Roscoe, we loaded the retriever into our truck and retraced our drive up Curtis Canyon. Roscoe lay calmly in the back seat, chin propped on the center console between our seats. He didn’t hang his head out the window savoring smells and fresh air, nor did he wipe his nose across the backs of our necks while dashing back and forth in anticipation of the outing. He was all business, awaiting his duties.
To make him comfortable on the bumpy, rutty dirt road, I placed a towel under his jaw. Without hesitation, he stuck his nose beneath it and flipped it aside. He is no sissy dog!
Going to Work
When we arrived at the marker, Chuck parked the truck. Since the site also serves as a remote campsite, some trash littered the area. Looking at a plastic water bottle, an empty chip wrapper, and some tissue paper on the ground, I wondered if the debris would confuse Roscoe. Could he distinguish between the trash and Chuck’s phone, if it was indeed on the ground here?
Roscoe remained in the truck when Chuck opened the door. “Free dog!” Chuck commanded, and Roscoe exploded from the vehicle.
“Let’s go to work!” Chuck commanded again, and Roscoe danced in excitement.
“Find thing!” Chuck commanded lastly. And Roscoe took off, nose to the ground, racing back and forth, simulating a grid pattern.
Surprisingly, Roscoe passed by the plastic bottle. He ignored the chip wrapper. He showed no interest in the tissue paper. Finally, within a minute, he plopped down on the ground, staring directly in front. Chuck walked over to Roscoe, bent down, and retrieved his phone.
The reward for Roscoe’s feats is a toy. Chuck produced this toy — a kong toy on the end of a rope – and Roscoe and I played tug-of-war for several minutes. As I tried handing my camera to Chuck, Roscoe dragged me in several directions, relishing his playtime and his strength. When I let go, he continued tossing the toy in the air, catching it, and whipping it back and forth ferociously.
Then it was time to leave. Mission accomplished, Roscoe dropped the toy on command and jumped into back seat of the truck, never knowing what he had done for us.