German shepherds can live for about a dozen years, so Josey had a very short life in comparison when she died in October at age 6.
But, in that brief amount of time, Josey was a movie star, a search-and-rescue dog and local celebrity as a fixture at Kellie’s Place, the pet store in Brookfield owned by Dori Lumpp and Dan Berecek.
“She lived life to its fullest,” Lumpp said. “She did so much.”
Berecek said he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting when Josey came into his life as a puppy. Josey was intelligent, good with people and lovable on one hand, but headstrong and highly driven on the other.
The breeder in Dover who sold Josey to Berecek described her as “laid back.”
“She was not laid back,” Berecek said. “I got this dog and she could have been a police dog – that’s the kind of drive she had. I was struggling with her.”
Paren Mintern, who owned Kellie’s Place with his wife, Kellie, before selling it to Berecek and Lumpp, was a German shepherd breeder and worked with Berecek on how to handle highly driven dogs.
“Once he guided me through how to communicate with her, it just clicked after that,” Berecek said, noting that she not only read his body language but expressed herself through her movements.
Berecek, owner of DB Heating and Cooling, built an obstacle course in his back yard complete with jumps, teeter-totter and tunnels to work with Josey. Berecek sent videos of his work with Josey to his sister, Tammy McCarthy, who showed them to a dog handler working with the crew of the film “Before the Border.”
Josey and Berecek not only earned small roles as a search dog and its handler in the film, which was released last summer some three years after it was shot, but also found a new way of life.
“The dog trainer that picked her for the part said, ‘You know, your dog seems to have a natural knack for this,’” Berecek said. “She says, ‘Did you ever think about getting into search-and-rescue work with her?’ That had never crossed my mind.”
Berecek and Josey embarked on the rigorous training program to become certified by the North American Police Work Dog Association and the International Police Work Dog Association in the search for missing people and in finding human remains.
The work was transformative.
“She needed a job,” Berecek said of Josey, because of her drive.
“She had to find something to keep her occupied or she’d find something, and it usually wasn’t good,” he said. “By having her involved in search and rescue, that really gave her a purpose.”
Berecek took to the search-and-rescue work, too.
“Once I started doing it, I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s always a challenge – I enjoy challenges – and it’s very rewarding.”
It took 18 months to become certified, and Josey was a support dog for the Northeast Ohio Children Abduction Response Team for about 2.5 years.
Berecek and Josey worked on cases about six times, usually to seek human remains in cold case investigations, but also on a search-and-rescue mission for a missing child in inner city Cleveland.
“For public relations events, we were in parades to promote our group,” Berecek said. “She loved it. I think she thought everybody was there to see her. She would go along the parade route and greet everybody, especially kids, she loved kids.”
Josey died so young because of cancer, an increasingly frequent ailment in dogs, Berecek said. Josey had a bleeding tumor in front of her heart.
Her death was mourned by many as Facebook posts offered condolences and flowers were dropped off at the store. People used to come into the store just to see Josey, Berecek said.
“I’ve had dogs my whole life,” he said. “I’ve lost my dogs my whole life. This one hurt. It was bad. You won’t replace that one.”
Although Berecek hasn’t gotten over the hurt, he has moved on. Through the Minterns, another shepherd, Frankie, chose him, and has taken Josey’s place in the store, he said. Will Frankie follow in Josey’s footsteps as a search-and-rescue dog?
“We’re going to have to see,” Berecek said. “I would like her to.”
It will depend on factors such as Frankie’s drive, what motivates her and her willingness to work, he said.
“She’s an intelligent dog,” he said. “She’s very sweet. Obedient commands, she’s very good at. She’s still a puppy; she’s still distracted very easily.”
Berecek said he will start introducing certain concepts to her.
“I should know by the summer whether she’s going to work or not,” he said. “If she doesn’t work out, I’ll probably end up getting another dog that will meet more of the criteria that you would want for a search dog.”