Twist of fate brings disaster prep pup to Lincoln City

Jim Kusz and Nick the goldendoodle will be working together to educate their community about pet preparedness at safety fairs, emergency planning classes and other special events. (Photo by Stephanie Blair)

LINCOLN CITY — A new member has joined Jim Kusz in his efforts to educate the public on disaster preparedness: Nick, a 16-month-old goldendoodle.

Kusz, a North Lincoln Fire and Rescue district captain, has a passion for education and disaster planning — a combination that has led him to teach disaster preparedness classes. But until today, he’s done that class fur-free, though preparing for pet care in the event of an emergency is part of his curriculum.

Now, he’ll have a canine assistant, thanks to Nick literally walking into Kusz’s life at just the right time.

Last year, Jim and Diane Kusz discovered that their dog Quincy was extremely ill — on Quincy’s birthday, Easter Sunday no less.

“The next day, Monday, we took him to Dove Lewis in Portland for extensive tests,” Kusz recalls. “Quincy had cancer and we had to put down later that week. He had just turned seven. It was a huge shock to my wife and myself.”

Diane commented that the loss of Quincy was heavy grief. The two loved their goldendoodle, who was still young.

Fast forward to March this year, Kusz runs into a woman who is out walking a dog that reminds him immensely of Quincy — this dog is named Nick. They started up a conversation that the fire captain calls a “chance meeting that changed our lives and Nick’s.”

The woman was Trish Fuller of Off-Leash K9 Training, a service and working dog training company located in Grand Ronde. Nick was a young service dog — still a puppy, really, at just 16 months old — whose owner had suddenly passed after battling cancer.

“Long story short, Nick is ours and Nick is going back to work, as our Disaster Preparedness mascot,” said Kusz. “Nick is highly intelligent and we’re training him.”

So the community is likely to spot Nick working at safety fairs, special events and of course, Kusz’s disaster preparedness classes, providing information and demonstrations along the way.

“I envision Nick being a mascot and demonstration dog in his newfound service,” Kusz explained. “Nick will also be the ‘Poster Canine’ for pet preparedness — something that is very close to my wife’s heart. He is also, frankly, a companion for me and Diane after our tragic loss of Quincy last Easter, as he learns to be even a greater working dog.”

Kusz said that Nick may also be called in after an actual disaster to interact with victims and responders. However, outside of those events where the dog is directed to interact with specific people, the general public shouldn’t bend down to pet, kiss or hug him while he’s working. Just like a police K9 or a search and rescue dog, Nick isn’t a pet.

“You shouldn’t interact with a dog in training or a service dog,” said Kusz. “The dog’s job is to focus on completing tasks for its owner or handler; he is working.”

The community will have the opportunity to come meet Nick during the Dog Gone Crazy Day at the Lincoln City Cultural Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 20. Dog Gone Crazy Day is a fundraising event for The Beach Bark and Lincoln City Police’s K9 Unit, as part of the Community Days activities.

Another great opportunity to see Nick in action teaching about pet preparedness alongside Jim: An upcoming two-session disaster preparedness class scheduled for June 6 and 13, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. each night. Registration for the free class open now at www.oregoncoastcc.org/disaster-preparedness.

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