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Jessie the rescue dog is gone but still inspires

TAMPA — Just three days after the death of a former partner, Tampa fire Lt. Roger Picard was putting a new one through the paces.

"Speak!" Picard bellowed. "Good girl."

Picard's latest partner is a black Labrador named Cinder.

She has a lot to live up to.

Any success Picard has with Cinder and other rescue dogs like her can be traced back, he says, to his experience with Jessie, a 13-year-old yellow Labrador.

"She never let me down. That's one thing I'll never forget," Picard said.

Jessie was such a good rescue dog she was sent to search for survivors at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to Punta Gorda after Hurricane Charley in 2004 and to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Jessie, who retired from Tampa Fire Rescue three years ago, died Sunday in the care of her adoptive owners, Al and Sandy Tupper.

"She had a certain respect for what she was doing, a certain amount of professionalism," Sandy Tupper said outside the Tampa Fire Academy on Wednesday.

Tupper said that every night at 8, Jessie and Al would have vanilla ice cream before retiring for the night. On Sunday, when doctors told the Tuppers that Jessie should be euthanized, Al and Jessie had one last dessert together.

"It was a ritual," Sandy said.

But it was Picard who was with Jessie during her last moments.

"She lived a full life," he said. "She never let us down. That's one thing I'll never forget."

On Wednesday, Picard turned his attention to Cinder, instructing her to run up ladders and through tunnels to get her comfortable with difficult surfaces and dark, closed spaces.

Dogs like Jessie and Cinder help rescuers find survivors after disasters, like hurricanes or when buildings collapse. Tampa Fire Rescue has seven of them. Many are raised and trained at Maranatha Farm Kennels in Maine, and each costs about $3,000, Picard said.

There the dogs learn basic obedience, fetching drills, water navigation and how to behave around guns. Many of the dogs have additional certifications, such as with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Without the affectionate attention that Jessie gave people Picard worked with during disasters or missing-persons cases, it would be easy to think of them as just another address or a faceless name, Picard said.

"I think, really, she taught me that what we do out there is really important," Picard said. "She taught me a lot."

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Jessie the rescue dog is gone but still inspires 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 3:41pm]
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