SARDOC recently lost one of our finest. Thunder was a German Shepherd who fielded with her handler, Estelle Purvis, through Larimer County Search and Rescue. She was certified in Air Scent for 9 years and helped with many missions. She was a tenacious worker and always supplied excellent information on searches.
In addition to Air Scent, Thunder also trained in Disaster and Water. She was much loved by everyone in SARDOC. Hiding for her was tremendously fun. She would come running in and bark, bark, bark until she decided to go back and get Estelle. She loved searching and playing with her reward toy more than anything.
Thunder will be missed by so many people.
Fran Lieser, SARDOC Founder
Oct. 20, 1944-October 17, 2013
Fran was born in Greeley in 1944, and lived in Johnstown, Loveland, and, most recently, in Gill, where she had a small sheep ranch. She graduated from Roosevelt High School and worked as a Supervisor at HP for her entire life.
Animals were a huge part of her life. She worked first with Morgan Horses. As a member of Larimer County Search and Rescue, she was asked by the Colorado Search and Rescue Board(CSRB) to develop some quality Standards for training and fielding Search Dogs and that was when she co-founded Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado (SARDOC). Fran had very high standards, which she insisted upon for all the SARDOC dogs that would become Search Dogs. SARDOC’s concise organization and demanding standards are a testimony to Fran’s dedication to Search Dogs that would be entrusted with saving people’s lives and bringing loved ones back to their families.
Fran was a wonderful guide and teacher for SARDOC handlers, while she also had very high expectations for teams. The training methods and standards develop by the founding members of SARDOC have helped bring about positive results on many many searches over the past 30 years.
After her retirement from SARDOC in 1991, Fran trained Kelpies for herding sheep. She enjoyed helping other people train their dogs as well as trialing her own.
Below are a few memories from SARDOC handlers who were fortunate enough to have worked with Fran:
“I first met Fran in the fall of 1989, I was living out-of-state and I had heard about SARDOC. I talked with Fran at length by phone and told her I would like to come up and observe a practice and she offered a place to stay to someone she had just met on the phone! I did come up and got to watch a dog practice at her old house on Glade Rd. I got to watch Terry Govan and her dog Jesse and Greta Sloan and her dog Cello work, to name a few. WOW! I was just blown away. The coolest thing I remember the most was when after the dog found the subject and got rewarded, Fran made it a point to ask everyone who went along on the problem what they’d observed and what they’d learned, good or bad.
“When I moved to Colorado in the Spring of 1990 and started training with SARDOC, I was very blessed in getting to train a lot with Fran. I so wanted a trailing dog! I remember her always saying, “Your Shepherd is no trailing dog, she is a airscent dog!” After what seemed like forever, it finally sank in that Fran was a hard task master, but she just really wanted quality teams.
“Over the years people have told me they would have liked to have met Fran or would have loved to have worked with her. I believe that if you ever certified a dog under the SARDOC standards you really did meet Fran because you followed her passion.”
Estelle Purvis; Handler of Heidi, Echo, and Thunder
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“Fran was a very dear friend and a marvelous teacher for those of us who wished to do Search and Rescue or herding with our dogs. I had the very good fortune to do both these things with Fran because after she left Search and Rescue work to concentrate on herding I continued to receive her training with both Cello and Amber in sheepherding.
But my initial, longest and most impressive work with her was with Cello in Search and Rescue. I will never forget my first trip up to a practice at Lory State Park where I went along with Fran as she worked her trailing dog, Pockets. I had done AKC obedience with previous dogs and was in early Schutzhund training with my German Shepherd, Cello, but never before had I seen anything like the partnership between her and Pockets as they worked the trail. She had an amazing gift of reading the dog and knowing how the handler can best respond. Following Fran that day I knew that was what I wanted to do with my then nine month old dog, and we launched into it eagerly. Cello became a wonderful search dog and I credit so much of our success as a team to Fran’s training. Her perceptiveness was almost uncanny, into situations and a dog’s behavior, how to read it and how we the handler should respond. She could see better than anyone when a dog was on course (trail or air scent) or when he was searching for it with concentration and focus, or when something else had distracted him, or when he was simply wandering about without the focus that a scent article and his own desire to work should have given him.
She had a way of teaching you without putting you down. You never felt you had to prove to Fran what you were trying to do – she simply opened the door so you could see and act upon the whole situation better. She always told the truth as she saw it and she would never make excuses about anything and she always held us SARDOC handlers up to the highest standards. There was a deep sense of integrity about all she did and so she was a great moral, as well as a down-to-earth practical, leader for the search work for which she trained us. I can remember how if I’d feel discouraged by having messed up a practice, being unobservant and making mistakes, rather than getting negative she’d just sort of square everything up, put it in perspective, reminding you that this whole search work is not really about us, the searchers, at all – it is about finding the lost person and perhaps saving a life. This overwhelming sense of what at heart our search work is really about inspired all the effort and the time spent training and practicing, and the necessity also of facing in our own lives whatever inadequacies or failures we encountered.
Fran was always positive. You learn, you work, you struggle against adversities, you never give up – in your training, your life, and in your action as a search dog handler and team. You knew also you could always count on her for support, help and caring as long as you came to her with good intention yourself. She was known for always giving to the rest of us first. In practices, for example, she would make sure everyone else had gotten a turn to practice before she would work her own dogs. Small things like this demonstrated the large way in which she gave of herself to others.
During the last several years I have no longer been able to work with her training a dog, and our visits got fewer, but whenever I’d pick up the phone we’d have a conversation as alive and present as if we’d seen each other the week before. She was a faithful and most caring friend and even when she is no longer physically with us I feel that all she taught and shared with me remains alive and present in my life. One morning when I came to her ranch I encountered her in the barn, gently holding a lamb whose birth she had stayed up most of the night for so as to be there for its mother in need. This small gentle picture expresses the quietly generous and loving life she lived. Her legacy lives on, both in SARDOC and as inspiration for those of us who were so fortunate as to have been her students and friends.”
Greta Sloan; Handler of Cello and Amber
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“Sad day. Just received word that Fran Lieser, the co-founder of Search and Rescue Dogs of CO, was found dead on her property yesterday after an ATV accident. Fran and Kim were my initial introduction in SAR dog work. I spent many hours learning to be a professional SAR person, not a hobby SAR person under her. They founded SARDOC in the mid-80s… after much discussion with CSRB. A hard taskmaster who taught me to do it right for the life of the subject. My first two years of SAR dog work were spent under her tutelage from 1988-1991 when she retired and moved to the plains and began sheepherding. She excelled at competition trials through that as well. Fran was an early SAR dog pioneer with the likes of Hatch Graham, Marian Hardy, Bill Tolhurst and a few other individuals. Thank you Fran. Rest in Peace.”
Cheryl Kennedy; Handler of Duke and Apache.
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“Fran was a member of Larimer County Search and Rescue, but I didn’t get to know her really as a dog handler until as new members we had to train with the dogs as part of our new member training. I was fascinated at the teamwork she and her dogs demonstrated. When I got my own dog, I decided to train my dog and experience the bond enjoyed while looking for lost people in the wilderness.
“We had weekly training sessions on Fran’s property west of Loveland, on property near her, and at Lory State Park. People came from around the state to train. She was very dedicated to training reliable and dependable search dogs. Fran was no-nonsense in her approach and gave you honest feedback. She totally trusted the dogs and would get after handlers who did not believe in their dogs or who would teach their dogs to false alert. We were supposed to be the silent and patient partner in the search dog team. I really appreciated Fran’s approach to training—work hard as someone’s life may depend on your team. She was honest in her assessment of when she thought you were ready to field or if you weren’t ready. She was honest in her assessment of teams that would never be field-ready. Search dog training was serious and not to be treated as a hobby. I remember attending a national training and they did not believe that we were volunteers being trained by a volunteer; we had to be professionals—that is the level of training Fran expected.”
Julie Weibler , Handler of Tassie and Zephyr
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“When I met Fran I knew zero about search dogs and Fran was already a veteran.
“More than anyone she taught me to be an observer of dogs. She seldom spoke when she worked her dogs, instead ever aware of the slightest nuances, the seemingly insignificant changes in tail orientation, and the seemingly indiscernible head tilts.
“She taught me the importance of believing in my dog no matter the barbs from neigh sayers. Some of the greatest doubts came from us ourselves and Fran never gave up on us or our dogs.
“I remember Hasty being skunked during his night test. I was ready to call it and Fran told me not to. She knew he was working well and that even skunk smell wouldn’t prevent him from following through to the end. We were successful.
“I am so grateful for the time Fran invested in us. Her legacy will continue on through the many, many handlers and dogs influenced by a very powerful, kind, and generous woman.
Patti Burnett; Handler of Hasty, Sandy, and Magic
We said goodbye to Maggie today, my 14 1/2 year old Australian Shepherd. She had been fighting lymphoma cancer for over 22 months. She was Mesa County’s second search dog, with my dog Klapatche as the first. Maggie enthusiastically did her job as a search dog in air scent and avalanche, and did it very well, with plenty of finds to her credit.
She also had many fellow doggie friends in SAR. As a young dog she made it a point to convince any dog she met to play with her, and they almost always did, as some of you remember!
Just wanted to let you know, and to thank everyone who sent healing thoughts to us over these 22 months.
Free dog, Maggie!
Mesa County Search and Rescue
SARDOC was pleased to invite K.T. Irwin down from Cody, Wyoming to put on a Scenarios Seminar for several of our dog handlers. K.T. and her colleagues, Deb Hurlburt and Mel Gothard, specialize in Scenarios Workshops where the trainings mimic real life cases. Handlers all worked each case blind. Two to three scenarios were set up each day. Between working missing person cases, old and recent “murder” scenes, vapor wake situations, and more, teams went home exhausted and well-educated after three days in the field.
On top of this, Dr. Weathermon from the University of Wyoming gave an amazing presentation about human vs. animal bones to help further everyone’s awareness in the field. Dr. Weathermon is an expert in this area and has been on many cases during his long career.
SARDOC is very grateful to Northwest K9 and Dr. Weathermon for sharing their time and knowledge with us.