Team Puzzle
Born on June 23, 2004, Puzzle (Mystic Writ'n In the Wind) is a light blonde Golden Retriever with a happy, buoyant personality. Through her handler, Susannah Charleson, she has worked hard and become certified in Wilderness, Urban, and Disaster Search and Rescue (as of 2/2007). She is currently the youngster of the MARK-9 dog team and fully certified before she was two years old. Puzzle loves her work, exhibiting strong drive and clear alerts.

But at home Puzzle still plays like a pup -- saying "woo-woo-wroo" to the family Pomeranians until they chase her around the yard. Autumn pleasures include hanging out around the backyard firepit, flushing squirrels from the bird feeder and sharing an ice cream with her handler. It is good to be The Golden.

For Golden Retriever enthusiasts, Puzzle is a 2004 pup born of working parents who compete in Obedience, Agility, Hunt, and Conformation:

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Puzzle is the granddaughter of BIS BISS CH Celestial Sirius Jake CDX JH WC VC SDHF OS and is out of a paternal line that includes Can Ch Trowsnest Wnd B'neath my Wings ** Am Can CDX SH and Ch Trowsnest Whirlwind UD WC OS, Can CDX WC.

A good dog is a great partner in the search field and out of it. Puzzle's obedience trainer is Susan Blatz, All Dogs All Day Companion Dog Obedience and Training, Dallas. We are proud to have Susan as a part of Team Puzzle!

Check out this team's public education efforts in this article, Forensic I: Puzzle Solved - Canine Search and Rescue.

Scent of the Missing is the story of Susannah and Puzzle's adventures together, and of the close relationship they forge as they search for the losta teen gone missing, an Alzheimer's patient wandering in the cold, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. From the earliest air-scent lessons to her final mastery of whole-body dialog, Puzzle emerges as a fully collaborative partner in a noble enterprise that unfolds across the forests, plains, and cityscapes of the Southwest. Along the way Susannah and Puzzle learn to read the clues in the field, and in each other, to accomplish together the critical work neither could do alone and to unravel the mystery of the human/canine bond.


Susannah Charleson's Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog is a MUST-READ bookat oncehonest, funny, and incredibly moving.

This April 2010 memoir is not what you typically expect in a "dog" book; but then, the author is not simply a "dog" person. Susannah is an also an accomplished broadcast writer and a trained pilot, no less.

But, underlying all of her abilities is that of bright and astute observant. Before this book, we have not seen such an organic, breathing testimony of a dog's intersection with life.

Although a non-fiction account, the book's intriguing mystery type beginning―from Chapter 1: Gonepulls you into the scene immediately. Here's a small taste:




IN THE LONG LIGHT of early morning, Hunter circles what remains of a burned house, his nose low and brow furrowed. The night's thick air has begun to lift, and the German Shepherd's movement catches the emerging sun. He is a shining thing against the black of scorched brick, burned timber, and a nearby tree charred leafless. Hunter inspects the tree: half-fallen, tilting south away from where the fire was, its birds long gone. Quiet here. I can hear his footpads in the wizened grass, the occasional scrape of his nails across debris. The dog moves along the rubble in his characteristic half-crouch, intense and communicative, while his handler, Max, watches.

Hunter rounds the house twice, crosses cautiously through a clear space in the burned pile and returns to Max with a huff of finality. Nothing, he seems to say. Hunter is not young. There are little flecks of grey about his dark eyes and muzzle, and his body has begun to fail his willing heart, but he knows his job, and he is a proud boy doing it. He leans into his handler and huffs again. Max rubs his ears and turns away.

"She's not in the house," I murmur into the radio, where a colleague and a sheriff's deputy wait for word for us. "Let's go," says Max to Hunter.


Be sure to check out the fascinating interview and video below.

Click above to see a short video with Team Puzzle

Q: Scent of the Missing follows the relationship between you and your search dog from her puppyhood to eighteen months of age and her first search. How does your relationship now differ from the one you had with her then?

A: Puzzle is five and a half now. Though we had several hundred training searches together in the period covered in the book, we've had easily double that now. I have a lot more trust in her bond with me. She works pretty much exclusively off lead, and I no longer wonder if she'd abandon a search, run away from me to chase her own interests, or anything like that, as I did when she was very young. During her puppyhood, Puzzle was always interested in search work and joyful about finding people, but she seemed to regard me as an unnecessary chaperone for a job she'd do better alone.

As she matured, Puzzle seemed to recognize that part of her job was to work with me, to communicate with me, to insist when I'd missed some signal from her―and she seems to find joy in that part of the job too.

Q: Is your relationship with Puzzle, as depicted in the book, typical of the kinds of relationships other SAR handlers have with their dogs?

A: Some situations in the book probably resonate with other handlers―maybe a few make them wince, or laugh at my failings outright―but Scent of the Missing by no means represents a "standard" dog-and-handler relationship. It's not a template or a guidebook for best practice. I compare this book to a memoir about a marriage or raising a child: a portrait of one relationship over a period of time―ideally magical, meaningful, and worthy of being shared.

Q: What are these working dogs like at home as pets? What do they enjoy doing off duty?

A: Most of them enjoy being pretty typical dogs. They have favorite toys and games and preferred sleeping spots. They mooch car rides and sneak drinks from the toilet. Puzzle is a creature of routine. She likes to play bitey-face with one of the Pomeranians first thing in the morning. She adopted a kitten a couple of years ago; that kitten is now a cat, and the two of them cuddle and play quite a bit. Puzzle enjoys playing fetch and tug with humans. On rainy days she is keen to go outside and find the perfect mud puddle. Puzzle is happiest when she's absolutely filthy―a good puddle wallow, followed by a roll in the grass.

Q: How long will Puzzle's search career run?

A: Until she shows me she can no longer do the job, or she no longer wants to do it, or until my own strength forces us to retire from the field. This work is physically rigorous, and I wouldn't push a dog whose condition was not up to it.

Nor would I run her if I couldn't do my part of the job. Usually the dogs grow too frail before they lose their interest, so it's likely the types of searches she could work would taper off as she ages. Some dogs retire from disaster or wilderness work, for example, but are still able to work for years on boat/drowning searches, which don't require running or climbing.

Q: What happens to the dogs when they can no longer work searches?

A: Though there are exceptions with some teams, most search dogs retire as much-loved family members, living with the handlers they’ve partnered. Some dogs are so driven to work that they learn new tasks. Puzzle is very pack-oriented, and though she's not a herder, I think she'd happily learn to round up the other family pets or to "find" them all in the house on command. She already enjoys knowing what's what and who's where in the household.

Q: What characteristics give a dog a special aptitude for SAR?

A: This question sparks a lot of debate among handlers and evaluators, but most agree that a good SAR candidate demonstrates high energy, has natural curiosity, seems to enjoy scent games―and enjoys them enough to ignore distractions!―is willing to work on command for a human, and is confident in new situations. Physically, they need to be athletic and structurally sound, with no vision issues. While shepherds, retrievers, and hounds are popular breeds in the field, many breeds can do this work, and mixed breeds can certainly have the right gifts too.

Q: When you first began working ground searches, was there anything that surprised you?

A: The dogs surprised me. While I knew that dogs could do this job, I had no idea how well they communicated complex conditions of scent (for example, differences between "a little bit of old scent here" and "live scent, right here, right now" and "human scent here, but not live") and how difficult a job it is to decode them. The dogs communicate from nose to toes to tail, and they do it fast, so it's a lot of reading on the run.

I was also surprised by how tough terrain can be even in a city. Urban SAR can become wilderness SAR pretty quickly. In our area, when a housing development stops, it stops, and just beyond that wall can be acres and acres of brutal scrub. I've walked past million-dollar houses and, twenty steps later, beyond the community gates, had to press through a sector on my hands and knees, cutting my way through thorns.

Q: What aptitude do humans have to bring to this work?

A: All kinds of stamina, physical, emotional, intellectual. A search can begin at what is, for search personnel, the end of a long workday. It can run all night and into the following day or days, in all kinds of weather across all kinds of terrain and in a state of emergency. Self control and a long fuse are useful. Physical soundness and a willingness to learn new things are important. It helps not to be a afraid of snakes, spiders, the dark, or tight spaces. It's also good not to be squeamish.

Handlers also need to really believe in the work of the dogs, to trust information that we humans can't see―or smell―and be able to let the dog do the work instead of trying to do it for him.

Q: You began search-and-rescue-related work as a pilot. Are there any similarities between searching from the air and searching behind a dog?

A: There are some surprising similarities. When I pass fields or wilderness areas in my car, I always think about how I'd land a plane on it, if I had to, or how I'd search it with a dog. Good pilots have an awareness of the ground they're flying over. In flight training, we sometimes look down at the terrain beneath us and hypothesize, "If my engine failed right now, where would I land? How would I set up that approach and that landing?" It's a matter of where the wind is coming from, how flat or rolling the terrain is, and what's growing on it. Working search with a dog, I have to take into account many of the same considerations. "If I had to search that valley, how would I set it up. Where would I start Puzzle, and which way would we work across it?" Again, it's a matter of where the wind is coming from, what kind of ground and vegetation has to be pressed through. Landing an aircraft is not just about managing the plane, it's about working the plane effectively across an environment. Working canine SAR is not just about running behind a dog; it's about making it possible for the dog to work well in an area that is always in a state of change, where scent is often twisted, lifted, or obstructed.

Flying and dog handling both also require focus, a good deal of self-control, and the ability to interpret subtle cues from dog or airplane―while either one is moving quickly!

Q: How will your partnership with Puzzle affect what you will do with your next search dog?

A: I'd have to learn pretty quickly not to expect the next dog to be just like Puzzle, even if the two were the same breed. Other handlers on my team are partnering their second dogs, and though they were experienced handlers when they got dog number two and were able to sidestep some of the problems a new handler has to overcome, all agree that every dog is a completely new conversation, in a new language. Truly back to square one with a nose, four paws, and a tail.

Puzzle learned very well from watching certified SAR dog role models, and I expect that if she is able to search and demonstrate the work in training searches to dog number two early on, it would be good for her―she is a proud dog―and it would be good for the new dog too.

I have to say that even talking about a next dog is bittersweet. Though I'm a practical person, dedicated to this work, and know that dogs age and then leave us, it hurts to think I could ever step into a search field without Puzzle.


We actually adore all that Susannah writes, but were tickled pink Golden when we saw the HUGE list of 91 The Golden Rules, created by Puzzle Charleson. We begged and begged, and begged some more, but finally received permission to reprint some of our personal favorites. And, boy was it torture trying to whittle it down in number, since we couldn't just copy them all. Honestly, they are all simply Golden delicious. But, for us, these are the sweetest of the bunch.

The Golden Rules, by Puzzle Charleson, search dog & philosopher

The Golden Rules #2 — Golden Dog must lie crosswise on any bed human also lies on. Not parallel — crosswise. Belly up. Gaseous. And kick in dog sleep.

The Golden Rules #7 — After a good dinner, cuddle up and gaze at your human with deep affection: You O Bringer of Kibble, O Filler of Bowl, I Adore Thee. Lean in, as if to give a little ‘thank you’ kiss on the cheek. Look deep into your human’s eyes. Belch.

The Golden Rules #8 — Befriend house kittycat. Encourage house kittycat’s lack of scruples. All that leaping! Clever paws! Praise her ability to knock foodstuffs from the counter to the floor. Eat it up and practice looking innocent. When kittycat ignores all scolding and prisses off to bat a bug on the screen, put your head on your human’s knee and huff a sigh: “I’m so sorry kittycat is such a trouble. Golden dog would never do that.”

The Golden Rules #11 — Rain puddles bring out your inner tap dancer. Gene Kelly on his best day would wish he were as good as you. Dance wild, dance free, oh happy canine. Go out Golden, come in a spotted dog. Genius.

The Golden Rules #13 — You may have a person name, but I think of you as ‘home.’ I would rather be with you than anywhere else.

The Golden Rules #14 — Hello, my person! (Here’s my toy.) Welcome home! I’ve missed you, my person (Here’s my toy.) It’s been a long day without you! (Here’s my toy.) And may I say …you … look (here’s my toy) … fabulous? Oh, and here’s my toy.

The Golden Rules #16 — the fabulous, disgusting thing you find in the yard is best shared with your person in the early hours of the morning, when they are most receptive. Put it at the foot of the bed or — best! — in the middle of a dark hallway leading to the bathroom. Fun for all.

The Golden Rules #18 — Drop Favorite Toy in the bathtub with your person to make a sort of soup.

The Golden Rules #19 — Baby, it’s hot outside. Take a nice long drink and then walk through the house with your soft mouth full of water, dribbling on cats, small dogs, and the slick tile floor alike. A hippo is tidier than you are with water. Work it.

The Golden Rules #20 — I have no idea how your slipper got in the litter pan.

The Golden Rules #21 — I have no idea who cleaned her pawpad on your new satin comforter and drooled a wet spot shaped like Idaho.

The Golden Rules #27 — Sometimes when you least expect it, I am so beautiful I break your heart.

The Golden Rules #28 — That grey, tattered, slobbery, gutless woobie trailing what’s left of its last leg is my favorite. Will always be my favorite. Here, let me bring him to you. See how beautiful he is with that dangly eye and love-worn coat? Let us play a little tug and dismember him together.

The Golden Rules #39 — A morning drive-by lick of the cheek or the elbow is a fine way to say “Hello, you’re tasting good this morning. The Golden is here, let the party begin.”

The Golden Rules #42 — You are sorely mistaken if you think this washed dog bed smells better than it did when rich with the scent of Goldendog. It took me weeks to pummel, muddy, and mellow it to my exacting specifications. ‘Lemon Fresh,’ indeed. What am I, a fruit basket?

The Golden Rules #51 — Hot product idea! Glade should create new product line: ‘Dog House’. Make plug-ins w/the following fragrances: Dirty Clothes Hamper, Warm Horse Manure, Pan-fried Squirrel. Will sell these ideas for a small residual. There is $$ in this. 3.2 million retrievers can’t be wrong.

The Golden Rules #56 — You wonder what I think about this dead bird in the road that we have moved together and carefully buried in the garden. I think she is dead, my person, and while I scent that great change, I can still hear the music of her living, which I think you cannot. Trust me on this. Her song is still there.

The Golden Rules #59 — Important Safety Tip: House kittycat, when confronted in litterbox, has both ability to multi-task & a strong right hook.

The Golden Rules #61 — There’s a poem on the wind, borne by the man jogging this way, two blocks down. How much faster he runs today than yesterday! Each light step shakes a little of him free. I smell bliss, courage, optimism (you would call them dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine, clinical words to frame his passionate heart). Smell deeply this man in love. Also he had sausage for breakfast. Awesome.

The Golden Rules #62 — Haiku for a squirrel: Hot summer squirrel / On loose wire over my head / One oops, fuzzbutt’s mine

The Golden Rules #64 — Suitable for dreaming: bury your nose in your person’s shoe and contemplate journeys past. Where has (s)he gone? What has (s)he been doing? Action! Adventure! Groceries! Nothing like kicking back with a little smell-o-vision of an evening.

The Golden Rules #72 — I don’t turn off the TV in the middle of your movie. Let me sniff across this bush a little longer — last time you said ‘Leave It!’ just when things were getting good.

The Golden Rules #89 — I ignore the toy and prefer your shoe because it smells like you, my person. O rich, O marvelous, O highly-scented you. Want me to play with the new fuzzy Pooh-bear? Put it in your armpit for a couple of hours, and we’ll talk.

The Golden Rules #90 — O tender young Golden, it’s party season at your house! Next time a visiting person is ‘otherwise engaged,’ push through the unlatched bathroom door and watch. Comedy! Drama! Action! Adventure! It’s all there. Admission is Free.

2009-2010, Susannah Charleson
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

By the way, I KNOW that you've now fallen in love with Puzzle's take on life. And, you'd probably be really excited to learn that there is a book tour that both Susannah and Puzzle will be conducting during the months of March and April.


Here's Susannah and Puzzle on Fox & Friends April 15, 2010.

To learn more about the tour and, of course, experience all 91 "The Golden Rules" along with Susannah's Blog and Journal writings, just click here..