Heroic dog remembered after serving 10 years
By Dennis Yohnka
The Daily Journal correspondent in Illinois
Lorraine Spaeth tried her best to prepare for Monday. The sunless, rainy weather seemed perfect for the task at hand. She wanted to say goodbye with compassion, but hoped to avoid the overflow of emotion that some consider wasted on animals.
This day would mark her last hours with her dog, Kelsey. And her first hours of adjusting to life without her. They weren’t just companions. They were co-workers, partners for 10 years. As longtime members of the Manteno Fire Department and the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department Canine Search Team, it was Lorraine and Kelsey’s duty to help bring closure to families with missing loved ones. The 13-year-old German shepherd made three “live finds” in her career, but her specialty was locating the lifeless bodies that stymied police investigations.
Monday, the process of closure began for Kelsey.
Spaeth, her veterinarian and a few friends said their last goodbyes, before this honored public servant was euthanized. Her body was taken for cremation at the Wolfe Whispering Winds pet crematory in Chebanse. Services there were donated out of respect for Kelsey’s service.
Kelsey shows her love for kittens.(photo courtesy of The Daily Journal)
On Tuesday, the ashes were spread in a private location where Kelsey once trained and played. Yes, even working dogs have some time for play.
“She was great on the job, but she was just as good as a companion,” Lorraine said. “She had cancer four years ago and we got her through that. She didn’t work much toward the end. She was more of my lap dog then.”
Kelsey started having seizures earlier this year; and as they became more commonplace and more stressful for the dog, the decision was made to end her fear and discomfort.
Lorraine described Kelsey as a good traveler, and they took on missing persons cases in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, as well as Illinois. Kelsey was responsible for the discovery of 10 bodies in the Kankakee area. But Lorraine is more comfortable recalling the living subjects.
“There was a fugitive once in a cornfield. I didn’t know it, but Kelsey did. She started barking and wanting to go in the field,” Lorraine said. “I shouted out that the man had better come out or I was going to send the dog in — and that ‘cornfield’ started talking back to me right away.”
It was more often the case that Kelsey led her human friends to the remains of bodies, sometimes little more than the bones. Since her purchase from a Monee kennel, “The Kaiser’s Miss Kelsey Storm” (that’s her given name) was trained just for this sort of work.
In fact, her reputation was such that New York City officials requested Kelsey’s help in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She couldn’t make the trip, though. Lorraine was recovering from knee surgery at the time and couldn’t handle the duty.
“I guess I really sheltered her a lot,” Lorraine said of her friend. “I kept her away from the press. I didn’t want her distracted on the job. I didn’t let kids pet her if she was working. But I really think she was happy. She had a good life.”
Lorraine has retired from the Manteno Fire Department, but she is still active with the sheriff’s department team. After the private funeral services Monday afternoon, she expected to get back to training her fourth dog.
“There are just two important things that I want people to know about Kelsey,” Lorraine said outside the Manteno Fire Department offices. “They should know that we were part of a search team and that team goes on. Those volunteers are still out there. Still nonprofit. Still ready to serve.
“And the second thing is the appreciation I feel for Rod Wolfe (and the staff at the pet crematory). They donated their services out of respect for Kelsey’s service and I just think that’s very nice.”
With a steady shower still falling outside, Lorraine took time to go through some photos of her dog. And she remembered the more tender moments.
“We had a case — I think it was out by Limestone,” she said. “Kelsey came back from the field with a stray kitten and took it to the Red Cross tent. And then she went back to work.
“She always had a thing for kittens. She could take or leave dogs, but she loved kittens.”