Kody: 1998 – 2012

Courtesy Photo

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.) When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man. With him, I am all-powerful. He is loyalty itself. He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever — in case I need him. And I expect I will — as I always have. He is just my dog. —Gene Hill

My wife and I first saw this handsome little fur-ball puppy on a Saturday in May 1998, at an Australian shepherd breeder’s near Oakland, California, when he was just 8 weeks old. I knew before that day that I wanted to train a pup to become a search-and-rescue dog (SAR K9), primarily as a Nordic Ski Patrol K9.

By the time we returned back to Santa Barbara that evening, Kody had become comfortable with being in his crate and being led with a leash. I was hopeful. The following Monday, Kody went to work with me, as he did for the next nine years, and soon became the principal attraction. I quickly realized that I was attached to his leash instead of him being attached to mine.

We started our training immediately, playing hide-and-seek and learning various commands. It wasn’t until that July, when Kody was 16 weeks old, that we attended our first official search training in Topanga Canyon with a California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) training group. I was anxious to see how Kody would perform with their “runaway” exercise. I was ecstatic. I could see that this little pup just might have the right stuff to become a SAR K9.

We continued our almost daily training here in Santa Barbara, and on one weekend day each week, we would drive to and from Los Angeles County for our 20 minutes of official training to learn the game of search. Soon we started to master the numerous skills that were required, and we were driving all over the state to train with other CARDA training groups. We trained in both rural and alpine environments.

During the winter, when Kody was one-and-a-half years old, before Kody became officially mission-ready and while I was on ski patrol at Mount Pinos, we found a mother and her daughter who had become lost. I hate to think what would have happened to them because of the approaching winter storm. The following February, Kody and I achieved the CARDA Mission Ready Certification in Air Scent Search and became the first certified Nordic Ski Patrol dog team (NSP K9) in the nation.

The following May, Kody and I performed our first search with Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue (SBCSAR). We officially joined SBCSAR soon thereafter. When Kody was 4 years old, we became CARDA certified in Human Remains Detection. Kody loved his work, and it was truly what he wanted to do most. Kody was a “rock star,” as an airline passenger once noted. He hung out with his fellow Nordic Ski Patrollers and his SBCSAR team members, as well as worked with them. Kody rappelled with me down mountainsides, rode on snowmobiles, quads, helicopters, Civil Air Patrol fixed winged aircraft, and as a passenger on commercial airlines. After 10 years of service, Kody retired at the age of 12 years, after participating in more than 100 searches throughout the state. He is credited with numerous live and deceased finds during his search career. Kody made a difference in my life, my family’s life, and the lives of others. He was my partner, my hero, my handsome boy, and I will forever miss him.

As we all know, wolves evolved alongside man and, after observing man from afar, understood we could actually coexist, long before man did. They were smart enough to choose to live with us. But Kody was the smartest of them all for choosing me.

Now it is time to say, “Kody, free dog!”


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