November 16, 2004

Handler: Sue Webb

Tiwat the golden retriever simply loved people - that's what made him such a good search-and-rescue dog.

"His big thing was to find people and get patted," said Sue Webb, Tiwat's owner and Wellesley's animal control officer. "He loved everybody. If he was off-leash and smelled a person, he would go find them and tell me."

Tiwat died Nov. 16 following a stroke. He had been suffering from degenerative myopathy, a loss of feeling in the legs that Webb said a lot of older dogs experience. He was buried Friday at the Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery in Dedham, the oldest pet cemetery in the country continually run by the Humane Society. Webb said that several of Tiwat's friends brought toys, pictures and stories to share at the service.

Webb received Tiwat as a present from a friend when he was only eight weeks old. Following her son's death, Tiwat was "something that kept me going," Webb said.

She said that some people cannot understand why an owner would be so attached to a pet, but her explanation is simple. "When there's that special connection [between the dog and] some other loved one, the animal means more," she said.

She named the puppy "Tiwat" - a word from the Nez Perce Indians meaning "medicine man" - because he had "a spirit to go find a lost person," Webb said.

She started training Tiwat as a search-and-rescue dog almost immediately. "He was trained in socialization, agility and obedience, along with using the nose," Webb said. Tiwat obviously disliked his agility training, she said, but when he was in search mode, "he had a completely different mindset. He rappelled off buildings and rode in a helicopter. He was constantly being exposed to new things," she said.

Tiwat participated in search-and-rescue training programs all over the country and in Canada. Webb also brought him to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., where he trained to search for people in case of a disaster, such as a fallen building.

Webb could not even begin to guess how many people Tiwat had located in his lifetime. "There were lots of times that he found the scent, which led [searchers] to the right place," she said. "I always tell people to trust their dog. There were a lot of times he would insist on [an area other than the one I suggested], and he was right."

If Tiwat wanted Webb to follow him, she said he did a "Lassie": he circled around in front of her and then glanced at her over his shoulder to make sure she was following him.

He was also inventive when he thought his owner was not paying attention. Once, while they were walking in the woods, Webb said that Tiwat lay in front of her and almost tripped her in order to get her attention. "He wasn't trained to do that, he just thought it up himself," she said. "He wouldn't let me not know if there was a person around."

Tiwat accompanied Webb to work every day and participated in programs for children on how not to get lost and how to interact with dogs, among others. He met with local Girl and Boy Scout troops as well. "There would be 300 kids there, and he would just stand there waiting to be petted by all of them - he could never get enough," Webb said.

Tiwat had an acute sense of how to relate to children. "He would lie down and get really small, so as not to intimidate them," Webb said. "He seemed to know that intuitively." Webb said Tiwat was also famous for giving people kisses underneath their chins.

Tiwat was a good friend who slept in bed with her and went on walks with children after school, Webb said. This past August, as it became harder for him to use his hind legs, Webb provided Tiwat with a dog wheelchair. The wheelchair, which strapped around his back and supported his hind legs, granted him the mobility and interaction he adored.

"It made him happier and healthier to be able to move around and visit people," Webb said. "It gave him exercise for his lungs. And he was wagging his tail, trotting around and took a walk in the woods."

"I took good care of him. He did so much for me that I owed it to him to do everything I could," she said.

i am a friend of sue and tiwat and love them both..

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