Search and rescue dog handler puts pen to paper

After 21 years in law enforcement, 17 years in broadcast journalism and 15 years volunteering as a search and rescue dog handler, Robert Calkins has added author to his resume.

At 62, Calkins continues to volunteer with search and rescue team in Western Washington while writing about real-life situations with his first search dog, Sierra. Calkins worked with Sierra from 2002 to 2007. 

Calkins’ books draw on his experiences as an SAR dog handler in Kitsap County, particularly in Green Mountain State Forest.

The GPS coordinates in the books and locations are specific to Kitsap County, but local accuracy isn’t the only thing that set Calkins apart from other authors.

“My point of distinction is same character set, same hero dog across multiple genres,” Calkins said. “I don’t know of any other authors that are doing that.” Calkins’ audience also varies across genre for different age groups.

The first book, a picture book, Sierra helps her owner, Bryce, play a game of hide and seek. In the next installment, called “Bryce Bumps His Head” and intended for beginning readers, Sierra saves her owner in the forest. The mystery Digger, for teen readers and adults, is about the same team uncovering a series of murders, using cadaver-dog skills. 

Calkins’ career started in the Portland police department, before he left law enforcement to work as a broadcast journalist. He later returned to the force in the hopes of better representing cops and portraying their stories.

Calkins started volunteer SAR dog handler on nights and weekends while working in law enforcement at SeaTac Airport. Becoming a search and rescue dog handler requires a major time commitment.

“It’s about 300 hours a year and it takes two years to get your first dog ready to go. The human is the harder half of the team to train. My first dog was pronounced ready to search at six months, it took me two full years to not be a hindrance to her,”said Calkins.

Calkins hopes to share his kid-oriented books in classroom presentations for the upcoming school year.

“Authors need to get out more,” Calkins said. “Kids need to hear from authors and understand that reading and writing are both still cool.”

There’s more skills to develop aside writing that are necessary to being an author, as Calkins has learned. Calkins has to run a small business in order to sell his books.

He has to publish the books himself, find an editor,  promote them through Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, and sell the books at farmers markets around Kitsap County.

“The business aspect had been fun because nobody knows everything. I was pretty accomplished in my previous field, people came to me for advice, I had years of experience, I am a complete babe in the woods in the publishing business,” he said.

“It kind of makes me young again. In dog years I’m 144 years old, and it’s really fun to be a rookie again.”

Robert Calkins proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Calkins’ books can be found on Amazon and local farmer’s markets.

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