Thursday, March 31, 2011

Romeo Debuts Last Night During American Idol

After posting the story (below) about my visit with Romeo ME K9 3, I was surprised to see the number of hits on the blog escalate by the hundreds. The local news later picked up on the story as I discovered last night while watching American Idol. During the final minutes, the show cut to a teaser for Fox 5 San Diego 10 o'clock news featuring Romeo hard at work at the Medical Examiner's office.

Later I learned that Channel 8, the CBS affiliate, also did a terrific story on Romeo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CSI: San Diego K9? Introducing Romeo, ME K9 3

Three weeks ago Romeo was among the many sad, homeless faces at the Central Shelter in San Diego.

Today, he is the latest member of the elite, K9 search and rescue team in the County Medical Examiner's office, the only unit of its kind in the nation.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Romeo at his new home that he shares with San Diego County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner and his wife, Joan. Also there to greet me was the Wagner's Chesapeake retriever, Cocoa Bean, and LuLu, another former shelter dog who became ME K9 2. Last summer, as she began her job, I profiled LuLu in this blog and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

When I took LuLu's picture in the walk-in refrigerator her first day of work it was apparent, by her ears which were pinned back, that she was not completely comfortable in her new environment. Dr. Wagner reports that Romeo, to the contrary, has enthusiastically embraced the scents associated with his job. (I think it's a guy thing.)

Romeo is only 5 months old, and still growing. Over the next 18 months he'll be trained in air sniffing, tracking and trailing with the goal of being a FEMA-certified cadaver dog assigned to the John & Jane Doe Center, a component of the Investigations Division of the Medical Examiner's office. Chief Medical Examiner Investigator Gretchen Geary, head of the division, is responsible for coordinating in-house efforts to identify some 200-300 John & Jane Does each year.

"We have a 97 percent identification rate which is quite remarkable and the center has received national recognition," Dr. Wagner reports.

Geary is also the owner/trainer/handler of Thelia, ME K9 1, a 6-year-old, FEMA-certified bloodhound. Together, they are involved in all search and recovery efforts, working regularly with Sheriff's Search and Rescue, Border Patrol and Southwest Search Dogs, a volunteer group.

In recruiting Romeo and LuLu for his department, Dr. Wagner explained that he relied on the pool of dogs available at the three county shelters, regularly viewing dogs on the Department of Animal Services' website. "I think shelter dogs deserve a chance," Dr. Wagner said. LuLu is pictured here with 11-year-old Cocoa, who is occasionally called upon to work in the ME's office, specifically in their nationally-acclaimed Bereavement Center.

I was heartened to see LuLu's transformation from a skittish rescue pup to a confident, well-adjusted dog. My presence obviously didn't deter Romeo and her from enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon snooze.

Romeo and LuLu demonstrate that shelter dogs can excel, not only as loving family members, but as working dogs -- even public servants. Perhaps their story will inspire a new TV series: CSI: San Diego K9?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fly Away Home

Joey returned last week for his first visit after leaving Encinitas last June to begin his freshman year in the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University. I grabbed my camera and videotaped his reunion with Lucy, curious to see if she remembered him. . .and did she ever! The two grew up together. Lucy was 3 and Joey 9 when he introduced himself to our family -- 10 years ago next month.

Joey posted the reunion video on his YouTube channel this morning after returning to GU and in the background included a song he wrote/recorded back then about our friendship titled, "Mirror Image." To fully appreciate how precious he was as a young child, and devoted to animals, here he is performing to a panel of judges on Star Search in 2003 that included Naomi Judd, Ben Stein, Dweezil Zappa and Donny Osmond. I love this video!