Sherri Gallagher: Utilizing her expertise in novels
For 13 years, Gallagher has been training and using her German shepherds for search and rescue (SAR) missions for children, dementia patients, disoriented hunters or hikers, and even potential suicide victims.
Sherri Gallagher has served the body of Christ for since 1998 doing canine search and rescue. She has been a Boy Scout merit badge counselor for since 1999, and her son is an Eagle Scout. She brings the authenticity of this experience to her writing.
Sherri, tell us about your dog training experience.
When I was growing up my parents bred German Shepherds and used to joke they raised the dogs and the dogs raised the kids so I have been around dogs all my life. I grew up in a rural area so if I wanted to explore or play the only companion available was a German Shepherd (GSD). They were very protective and saved my life a couple of times. I wrote some stories for Callie Grant that were published in The Dog Next Door and Other Stories of the Dogs We Know and Love about growing up with dogs.
When my husband and I got married we got into showing Afghan Hounds and I was able to do some amazing training with them. You can’t train an Afghan Hound with force, they have to want to do it so I developed a lot of training skills that were “different” at the time. Now motivational training is very common. By the time the hounds passed of old age we had a four year old son and I was working 70-80 hours a week. I didn’t have time for a high maintenance dog and I wanted my son to have similar dog experiences to my childhood so we got a German Shepherd, Taz. Taz was a high drive working line shepherd, very different from what I had grown up with. I read to my son at night and he liked non-fiction animal stories. I read him the book So That Others May Live by Caroline Hebbard which talked about her journey into search and rescue. This obnoxious GSD was exactly the kind of dog she looked for to do search and rescue. There was an address in the back of the book. I wrote to it and so began my journey into the world of search and rescue (SAR). That was 1998. We tested to operational status in 2000 and I have been doing search and rescue ever since. In 2003 I acquired a large, high drive, male, GSD, Lektor. Lektor was my “unicorn” I could do any kind of SAR with him but it wasn’t enough. He led me into the sport of schutzhund, which is now called IPO. The dogs have to perform at tracking, obedience and protection. Much of what they learn is useful in search and rescue so I now cross train my SAR dogs in IPO.
Any dog can do SAR. Scenting capability is dependent on the size of the dog’s nose, the bigger the nose the better the ability to detect a scent. I stick to German Shepherds and I recommend anyone doing SAR at least get their original training with a breed specific group. Each breed has slightly different body languages and it is easier to train new handlers when everyone in the group reads the dogs’ body language and can point it out.
What is the most enjoyable part about this?
The most enjoyable part of both IPO and SAR is working with the dog. German Shepherds are the happiest when they are learning, especially working line shepherds. They look up at you with that pure love and adoration and you can’t help but smile.
Many times on searches we are called in long after the person went missing to recover the remains. When you know you are on a recovery search you don’t have to take risks or drive both you and your dog into exhaustion. We were on a search for a drowning victim in Canada. It was the fall, the edges of just a few leaves were turning color, the bears were well fed and moving into dens. Lektor and I had 22 miles of wilderness shore line to search. It was sunny, 50, clear and just beautiful and we were able to go back to a hotel at night and get a hot shower. As opposed to the potential suicide call that came in at 10 PM in 50 degree weather and pouring rain. That was one miserable night. We finished about 5 AM and found out the subject was running away not suicidal and was on a bus in Kentucky. Lektor tracked her to the bus stop and so they started pinging her phone so that was how they found her.
How did you get the idea to write Trust Your Dog: One Teen’s Journey?
I think my son had an interesting childhood growing up with the dogs and the SAR team. He has always been level headed and responsible and I think his participation and knowing that what he did made a difference to us as a family and the team had a significant impact on his attitudes both as a child and as an adult. I was always worried that at some point in time he would get left home alone while we were on a search. Thankfully it never happened but the first story is a potential scenario that could have happened. The rest of the stories were placing this teen in situations that adults were handling and showing how it was both right to let someone too young do the job and right to not let it be a full-time thing. The stories are fiction but each could easily have happened.
What is the most important idea you want your readers to come away with after they have read this novel?
You matter and you can make a difference. Being weird, being different, having people make fun of you because you are different hurts but being different is a good thing and if you embrace who and what you are you can make a difference. That difference maybe as small as easing your parent’s burden or as big as saving a life–each is valuable and you have value. Never forget, we need you.
Dangerous Turn Ahead is about Gabe Turner’s journey, and how his participation in Boy Scouts and with a canine search and rescue team, turn him from a life without the Lord, to one of spiritual fulfillment. Through this journey, Gabe goes from being bullied to finding his place among his peers, and from feeling afraid and inadequate to planning for his future.
Here is a link of a video collage of pictures from Lektor’s career in both SAR and IPO. http://www.youtube.com/watch?