Suzanne Elshult takes a knee with her search-and-rescue dog, Keb, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Suzanne Elshult takes a knee with her search-and-rescue dog, Keb, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Edmonds’ Keb, who combed Oso mud, up for Hero Dog of the Year

Suzanne Elshult’s search dog, a 12-year-old yellow Lab, has deployed on over 100 missions. She “is the consoler.”

EDMONDS — What this 12-year-old yellow Labrador sees as a game is life-changing for others.

Keb specializes in sniffing out human remains at crime scenes and natural disasters. She has deployed on over 100 missions with about a half-dozen “finds” in her career. Three of those were victims of the Oso landslide in 2014.

In August, American Humane named Keb the National Search and Rescue Dog of the Year. Now she is in the running with six other dogs working in service fields for Hero Dog of the Year.

Keb is one of several dogs owned by Suzanne Elshult, 69, a trainer from Edmonds. She and her dogs volunteer 15 to 20 hours a week with Cascadia Search Dogs, a Washington nonprofit. Elshult serves as its president.

“We get around families that have been waking up the past 10 years looking for their person, living in a space of uncertainty, and that just really resonated with me,” Elshult said.

Roughly 120 rescue dogs joined in the search search for remains at the landslide on Highway 530 east of Oso, which claimed the lives of 43 people, Elshult said. Keb was one of the first dogs deployed, and the last to leave, she said. Elshult and Keb searched places with mud so deep that those who got stuck needed help from up to three people to get out.

“We were working side by side with excavators and spotters, shifting the soil for human remains,” Elshult said. “I particularly remember our very first find on that. That is an image you never forget.”

Keb, a 12-year-old search-and-rescue dog, stands at the feet of owner Suzanne Elshult after a quick training exercise Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Keb, a 12-year-old search-and-rescue dog, stands at the feet of owner Suzanne Elshult after a quick training exercise Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

When she has a find, Keb sits down and looks at Elshult until she walks over to the spot.

Keb is trained to treat the search like it’s play, where she gets treats or her favorite ball for doing a good job. For her trainer, meanwhile, the search can be emotionally taxing.

“In some respects, it is kind of like with health care, you learn how to compartmentalize, and while you are on a mission, you can’t let your emotions get in the way,” Elshult said. “That being said, are there times when I shed tears silently on my own? Certainly, but Keb is the consoler. There’s nothing like cuddling with my dog after a mission has been particularly hard.”

All of Elshult’s dogs have been named after mountains she has climbed. Elshult’s other dog Kili was named after Mount Kilimanjaro.

“The year my family got Keb was also the year we climbed Mount Kebnekaise in Sweden, so we named her Kebnekaise, Keb for short,” Elshult said. “It has been a headache ever since because everybody thinks she’s a guy, including me.”

Suzanne Elshult and her search-and-rescue dog, Keb, walk together before a quick training exercise Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Suzanne Elshult and her search-and-rescue dog, Keb, walk together before a quick training exercise Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Witnessing 9/11 is part of what prompted Elshult to get into training dogs for search and rescue. Search dogs combed the wreckage at Ground Zero for weeks to find survivors or remains.

Keb has uncovered remains of people missing anywhere from two days to nine years.

All of Keb’s work is detailed in “A Dog’s Devotion: True Adventures of a K9 Search and Rescue Team,” a book Elshult co-wrote with James Guy Mansfield, another volunteer at Cascadia Search Dogs. The book is set for release Oct. 1.

“I want to inspire people, that is why I wrote my book,” Elshult said. “I found my passion in my 40s, and I want to encourage everyone to follow their dreams. I am so lucky being 69 and waking up every day with a purpose.”

In Elshult’s mind, the nomination for Hero Dog of the Year is already an honor. People can show their support by voting for her online at herodogawards.org. Voting closes Sept. 13.

Search-and-rescued dog Keb, who is 12 years old, rolls in the grass after helping her owner, Suzanne Elshult, track a scent during a training exercise Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Search-and-rescued dog Keb, who is 12 years old, rolls in the grass after helping her owner, Suzanne Elshult, track a scent during a training exercise Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Mary Murphy: 425-339-3429; mary.murphy@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @marymurphy301.

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