In the lush, verdant heart of Dominica, a humble hero walks among us. Not with a cape, but with a wagging tail and a nose for adventure: Cleopatra, the Dominica’s first and only search and rescue dog. Unlike her German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois counterparts, typically renowned for their strength and agility in rescue work, Cleo was a testament to the incredible potential that lies beyond breed stereotypes. Found by St. Nicholas Animal Rescue as a stray, sick and abandoned, Cleo’s journey began with a chance encounter with Dr. Golnaz Naderkhani, a rescue dog trainer with professional experience in Canada. Dr. Naderkhani, founder of St. Nicholas Animal Rescue, recognized Cleo’s innate talent and unwavering spirit, seeing in her the potential to become a hero.
“Not every dog can be a hero,” Dr. Naderkhani explains. “It takes special skills, mindset and a big heart. Cleo wasn’t even a fancy breed, just a rescued stray I saw potential in. But training? That’s six months of long hard work, every single day – Cleo learning to find a needle in a haystack.” Imagine the bond that builds during such intense training. Cleopatra and Dr. Naderkhani, two souls pushing each other to the limit, all for the sake of saving lives.
Being a search and rescue dog is no ordinary feat. It’s a demanding life, requiring unwavering focus, relentless stamina, and the courage to face danger head-on. It’s no wonder these canine heroes are rare and valuable. That’s why K9 search and rescue teams charge staggeringly hefty daily fees – their skills and sacrifice are invaluable, while service time-span is short. But Cleo? She volunteered with her rescue unit, a furry angel for those in need. Herself saved – just giving back. A dog’s heart at its best.
When a young girl disappeared, Cleo and her human partner (Dr. Naderkhani, the President of St. Nicholas University, no less!) spent many days combing the wilderness. They tackled scorching sun, climbed steep hills, forest, and crossed rushing rivers. Cleo’s nose was a magic wand, eliminating vast areas where the girl couldn’t be.
But it wasn’t Cleopatra’s only case. Soon after, another search was called, and once again Cleo spent days searching Dominica’s wilderness for a missing French tourist. Our K9 rescue team also answered the call for help after a devastating earthquake in Turkey. Cleo put Dominica on the map as a nation ready to lend a paw in times of disaster.
Yes, Cleo is different from many dogs. She has been a gift, a volunteer, a testament to the unwavering dedication of St. Nicholas Rescue and the immense heart of this unassuming stray. Her work inspired many, also the DVM students at St. Nicholas University, proving that even a dog with a rough past can become a beacon of hope and courage. Just one more example of SNU being unique in its ability to deliver a fuller and more engaging real-life veterinary training than many other counterparts.
Being a search and rescue dog isn’t just about sniffing out scents. It’s about pushing your limits, days spent battling exhaustion, navigating danger, and putting your body on the line for others. But being a hero comes at a cost. These missions are physically and mentally demanding. After days of searching, Cleo would need long time to rest and recover. But even heroes get tired. Her latest mission was a struggle, and health concerns whispered a warning. So, with a heavy heart, Cleo hangs up her harness.
She’s officially retired, leaving behind a legacy of bravery, loyalty, and inspiration. She taught SNU students, touched many lives, and earned a place of honor in everyone’s hearts. Will there be another Cleo? Only time will tell. But for now, let’s celebrate this remarkable dog, share her story, and remember the day she reminded everyone that even the smallest paw can leave the biggest paw prints.
Go, Cleo, Go! (But then have a nap, you deserve it!)