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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Cooper, Addie, and Rio portrait in progress 16

Working on "hugging Rio's" face.

I’m spending a lot of time on the details of his face, as I did on Karen’s. Although neither of their faces have all the facial features showing like you’d typically see in a portrait, it’s absolutely critical to get the details of each one’s expression just convey the deep feeling in this sweet and lovely pose. To show the emotion in this beautiful portrayal of Rio, “a hugger”, and the relationship he and Karen shared.

Woman and Doberman hugging, figures in portrait of SAR  Dobermans, in progress

Rio’s face finished, and am working my way around Karen’s hand.

Being able to capture the expression on Rio’s face is what would make or break the “feeling” in these two hugging.

“Rio was a hugger”, Karen said. “He gave the best hugs.”

Woman and Doberman hugging, figures in portrait of SAR  Dobermans, in progress

Here is what Karen wrote about RIO

Ch Nightbird’s Triton, CGC, SAR Wilderness Air Scent, SAR Human Remains Detection


Rio was my breeding. I researched back four generations on each prospective sire looking for longevity and reason of death. As well as temperament. I flew with my girl all the way to Trenton, NJ for the breeding. Rio was very much like his father. While I was sitting at their table talking, Rio’s father brought every toy he owned and dropped it in the chair next to me.

Rio would do the same. Only, it was balls. If you were digging a hole, balls would be dropped in until you picked one up and threw it. If a workman was here with a tool kit, balls would be dropped into it. He eventually got to dropping balls ON me. I’d feel them roll down my back!

Rio was one of only three pups in the litter. He was the pup that preferred to sit in my lap than play with his siblings. One of the other pups was a female that my husband loved. My husband keeps a “tight leash” on me and the numbers of dogs I can have. Two dobermans at a time is his tolerance level. So, we gave Rio to my daughter and her husband, and kept the female. I was soooo sad. I hadn’t realized what a connection I had with Rio. I was sorry I had sent him on and kept the girl.

Wellll, at four months, my daughter and SIL realized he was just too much to keep what with both of them working more than full time. (Hallelujah!!!) So, I GLADLY took him back. I had not really bonded with the female and so found a fabulous home for her. Rio and I were a love story. We were just happy to be together. And then I got into SAR with the intention of him joining me on the K9 unit.

He was really good at searching. But, I had one mentor tell me, “Rio doesn’t LOVE this game. But, he does LOVE YOU and does everything just to please you.” (After I worked with Cooper, I completely understood that comment). I started out using a “brinzell” (a long object that hangs off your waist that the dog can grab to let you know he found the subject) rather than the jump alert because he was a 98 pound boy in show weight. The brinzell ended up being a nightmare as Rio thought it hilarious to grab it, not let go and instead play tug-o-war! He’d be tugging and shaking while backing up towards the direction the subject was in. Needless to say, I was being thrown all over the place and the team was in hysterics.

So, we went to the jump alert because I figured if he stayed with the subject and barked, being a doberman, he might get himself shot. There were a number of times he was so excited about the find, I’d get hit and knocked down. I got really good at rocking on the ground and coming back up on my feet in one move! Ha! The team also found this quite hilarious. During his time as a search dog, I had a hysterectomy. When we came back to practice after that, he was very reluctant to hit me. And from that time on, he NEVER hit me hard enough to knock me down but always had a more delicate jump alert. Pretty in tune, I’d say.

The head of our K9 unit was a tough gruff ex-cop. Every training I had to brace myself for his jabs and comments. It sometimes made me very tense. One day while waiting for the team to come into base camp, another team member and I were talking to this head of our team. I look down and Rio has raised his leg and is peeing on him!!!! Rio evidently sensed my tension and had something to say about it!!!! The head of the team wasn’t very excited about Rio after that! Heheheeee!!!! (I bought Rio a hamburger on the way home!)

When Rio was 1 yo his father shockingly and horrifyingly died of Cardiomyopathy. When Rio was four we were taking his Advanced Wilderness Air Scent Test. I had stopped and was giving Rio a rest while terrified of what I might be seeing. One of the evaluators said, “How cute, look how he’s breathing.” Cute?? Holy Shit!! I’m internally flipping out because his mouth is wide open, his tongue hanging out, and he is deep breathing. Not just panting. He did go on to find the second subject and passed the test! What heart this dog had!

That afternoon I took him to a vet to have him checked. Sure enough they found something irregular about his heart. They sent me to a heart specialist up in Portland. The specialist told me he was shocked that I recognized that anything was wrong with him because at that point he had “Occult Cardiomyopathy”. (No overt signs of Cardio.) I know that I was able to see it before most people because when you work with a dog in SAR, you are watching for any body nuances while searching. As well as monitoring fatigue, thirst, etc. Sometimes, as was the case with Rio, a trained dog will come across something they haven’t been trained on. By watching the dog’s body behavior, you can tell if there is something he is interested in but not alerting on. And thus can check it out. Rio is credited with helping solve a murder when he came across a large pool of blood. He did not give me his trained alert. Probably because we only trained on small vials of blood not huge pools. In this case, he would not leave the evidence (blood) but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I could not see what he was sniff-sniffing until I came up to him.

Rio had an excellent sense of who was a possible threat and who wasn’t . He was not one to be overly reactive to strangers or visitors. He was a very solid stable personality. One day I was hiking, head down looking at the ground when he placed himself in front of me, stopped, and gave a warning growl bark. I stopped, looked up and here was a guy who was completely stoned heading towards us. Rio woke him from his stupor. He looked up and said, “Is your dog friendly?” I said, “That depends on you.” I do believe that dog would have done damage to anyone who tried to hurt me.

Another time, I was in our truck and Mark had gone into a store while I waited. Rio was in the backseat. A couple drunk guys came to the window. I rolled it down just a little. “Do you have any money?” Rio stood up. “No.” “Surely you have money.” Rio put his nose closer to the window and started growling quietly. They said something else which was drowned out by the snarls and bark of my Doberman and his acting like he wanted to come through the window at them. Their eyes went wide and they backed up and quickly walked away. If Rio could speak English, I’d swear he was saying, “I SAID, BACK OFF, Bucko!!”

Rio was actually a gentle sweet boy. Also, not a push over. He wouldn’t be the one to start anything, but If a dog started something with him, he’d not back down. His protective instincts also extended to his other family members. After being diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy, I got Addie to start training for SAR. One day the male Entle Bucher on the team decided, for no good reason, to show Addie he was boss. He went after her. Rio stepped in, pinned that dog on the ground and he never bothered Addie again!

Rio and I read each other well. I loved that dog with a passion. He loved me beyond reason and would do anything I asked. He died in 2006 so, I feel like I am forgetting some important things about him. I do remember the love we had for each other. That’s a feeling that never diminishes. Every one who met Rio loved him. He was a true ambassador for the breed. Sweet and kind and dropping balls on anyone who came to visit.

I was importing a drug (that was illegal in the states) from Canada that stabilized his Cardio. Also giving him all kinds of other supplements that seemed to be helping. At five, he was diagnosed with Lymphoma! What the hell!?

He worked SAR (more minor problems) up to a month before his death at 6 years old. He ended up dying of Lymphoma rather than Cardio!! When I announced his death I said to my friends, referring to the fact that he had both Cardio AND Lymphoma, “I guess he was really wanted in heaven.” One of my friends wrote back, “Maybe he was really needed to help search for lost souls.” I’ll never forget her comment. Witty and warmed my heart.

There will always be a sadness at losing Rio. But, I am also so grateful to have had him in my life.

Oh, and yes…. He gave THE BEST hugs!! Whether you were sitting at the computer, watching TV, or? He’d come up, place his head in your neck and give THE BEST HUGS.

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