Local hero dog Keb continues service after retirement

Keb offering her “sit” alert on a grave at Seabeck Cemetery. (Photos courtesy Suzanne Elshult)

K9 “Keb,” the American Humane Search and Rescue 2022 Hero Dog whose adventures have been chronicled in the award-winning bestseller A Dog’s Devotion: True Adventures of a K9 Search and Rescue Team, has found a rewarding career after her retirement.

Keb and I — both Edmonds residents — spent over 13 years of active service in wilderness search and rescue, during which we deployed on over 100 missions with multiple important finds. Keb has retired from dashing through the woods, but has found an exciting new pastime that is less physically demanding. She is now certified as an Historical Human Remains Detection (HHRD) K9.

In this new role, Keb is continuing her service to our communities by using her awesome nose and specialized training to specifically find old burials, unmarked graves and scattered human bones. In recent years, HHRD K9s are playing an important role in both criminal “cold cases” and in archeological work, such as locating ancient  remains and unmarked graves. On these types of projects, Keb and I often work hand in hand with archeologists, historians and tribal liaisons.

Kili doing his “down alert” on a burial.

Keb is joined in this new field by her 4-year-old younger brother “Kili,” a bundle of K9 energy who has learned in Keb’s footsteps. Kili, Keb and I were recently deployed on a large multi-day project to determine the absence or presence of ancient Native American remains in an area where a large government construction project is taking place. Kili served as the initial search dog, with Keb providing a critical “second nose opinion” at potential find locations. On this project, Kili and Keb had several important alerts telling me that they were detecting the “odor of human remains.” The alerts are then investigated further by archeologists with ground-penetrating radar looking for disturbance of soil corroborating that there are actual burials.

Keb, Kili and I volunteer our expertise along with our Cascadia Search Dogs team mates (with and without K9s) to support meaningful community projects that require extensive search strategy and planning expertise. This is often provided by Edmonds residents Guy Mansfield (co-author of my book) and his wife June.

Current examples include:

  • Working with the Yakama Nation Cultural Resources Management Program to search the Fort Simcoe property in Eastern Washington area for unmarked burials. Starting in the 1860s, Fort Simcoe was the site of an Indian Boarding School, where children were forcibly taken and subjected to harsh conditions as part of an “assimilation” initiative. It’s believed that some of these children may have been buried on the Fort Simcoe grounds, and Kili and Keb are helping to search for possible burial sites. We are hoping that the work we are doing with Fort Simcoe will provide a model that can be used to do similar projects at other boarding schools in the United States in years to come. There are more than 400 of them.
  • Earlier this year we started working with the Seabeck Cemetery Restoration project located on the Kitsap Peninsula. This work originates with the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution initiative to celebrate America’s 250th birthday in 2026, and the aim is to locate unmarked burials in the cemetery area.
  • And there are more projects we hope will come to fruition in the near future.
Guy Mansfield sharing his search plan with Yakama Nation Fort Simcoe Project Lead/Archeologist Jon Shellenberger.

While I am grateful to be able to wake up every morning feeling purposeful, Keb and Kili have no clue that they are making a meaningful contribution. For them it is just another day of playing their favorite game of “search – sniff – find.”

Guy Mansfield, Keb and I are available to offer presentations to community organizations on the important work we do with our detection dogs. And yes, Keb is definitely the most popular presenter, offering nudges and kisses to those who need a little love and who provide a snack.

— By Suzanne Elshult

You can reach Suzanne at selshult@hrnow.net or follow Keb on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ADogsDevotion/

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