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From the October 2009 Conservationist

A path through the forest

Back Trails

Always an Adventure

By Kelly Isles


It wouldn't be a stretch to say that my childhood was...well, different. As one of three children of a New York State Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO), there was never a dull moment growing up. From late night phone calls requiring my father to go out on a search with his K-9, to looking out the window at the back of his police truck (or simply opening the freezer in our garage) and finding road-killed deer carcasses-or parts of them-used for training purposes, one could say that the Isles household is not a place for the faint of heart.

An environemental conservation officer with his canine

I will spare you the goriest of details; let's just say that life was always interesting. You may think that these elements made me wish that my dad would have chosen a different career; but you'd be mistaken. I have learned that one must take the bad (and the gross) with the good in life. And there is always more good than bad.

Along with deer carcasses at our house, we've had dogs that are specially trained to detect them. Throughout my father's career, he has trained, worked with, and retired three K-9s and is currently training his fourth. The dogs grew up with my siblings and me, each one as much a part of the family as our other pets. When one of the K-9s retired, it would stay home full time with our family. For us, a K-9's retirement meant that if we didn't have a new dog yet, we'd be getting one very soon. It has always been something that my brother, sister and I looked forward to-another adventure. My mom looked forward to this as well, if only it weren't for the dog hair...everywhere you can imagine!

I have never seen anyone put as much love and dedication into their work as my dad does when he's working with his dogs. Along with family, dogs are his joy in life. Our family has dealt with the deaths of two of my father's K-9s. The passing of his dogs never slowed him down; instead, he became motivated to train other dogs. Eventually, this passion led him to succeed as coordinator of the K-9 unit.

Three children in a house with a stuffed deer

On many occasions my dad was called out for a search in the middle of the night. Hearing him leave with his K-9 always made me feel proud. But the older I got, the more nervous I became. I realized that not even my dad always knew what he would find on a search, or what potentially dangerous situation he might encounter. I always stayed awake until he came home, listening for his heavy boots coming up the stairs to wake us up, give us each a kiss and let us know he was home safe. Those early mornings, when my dad would sit on the edge of my bed, still cold and wet from being outdoors, are some of my favorite memories.

All of these things make me proud to be my father's daughter; proud that people turn to him in a time of need, proud that he works so hard to make sure people are environmentally conscious and law-abiding.

Kelly Isles is a senior at Nazareth College in Rochester.