Devotion is a word which many can describe but few will really, truly experience in their lives. For some their passions become a focal point for their very being – a consuming force that defines who they are and who they will become. For some, such devotion can take many forms and is all too often mistaken for obsession. It may be the animal hospital veterinary technician, working her third double shift that week. It may be a teacher, staying up late at night for months on end, drawing up lesson plans for her eager students. A search and rescue volunteer spending the last of their few hard-won dollars on medical equipment. A student spending nights engrossed in veterinary medicine books and taking copious, time consuming notes with no pending evaluations, exams or certifications on the horizon – just a hunger for the knowledge of her trade.
However, Kristi Smith is like none of these people.
That is, insofar as Mick Jagger bears absolutely no resemblance to the pre-teens that will undoubtedly be screaming into garage band microphones across suburbia tonight. Kristi Smith has a unique acquaintance with a professional level of devotion, a nearly all-consuming fixation with saving and improving lives – canine and human alike, which is rarely seen and unfortunately all too infrequently recognized. Her dedication to this ideal permeates her spare-time, hobbies, career, and volunteer service.
The seeds of Kristi’s career were planted at the young age of 13 after her family moved from Durango to Bayfield, Colorado when her mother tasked her with showing a family dog in an obedience competition. Before she knew it, Kristi was training and showing multiple dogs in obedience and conformation categories. Among the titles’ she and her dogs obtained were Champion, Companion Dog and Companion Dog Excellent. Eventually, this love for dog training took a turn. In 1986, Kristi joined the Kentucky Search Dog Association (KSDA) and certified for, as well as mobilized in, multiple search and rescue missions. If her past in showing dogs was the seed from which her career sprung, this time in77KSDA was the initial fuel that sustained the fire of her passion for search and rescue and eventually veterinary medicine. Kristi would progress in search and rescue – to be a nationally renowned name within K-9 circles, first through the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s Mark-9 Unit – eventually as the unit commander and then as a founding member and commander of Arizona Search Track and Rescue.
In 1998, Kristi made her switch to veterinary medicine formal, gaining her certificate as a veterinary technician in 2003. Just prior to that in 2002, her talents, knowledge of the veterinary technician field and veterinary medicine in general was recognized shortly before her certification and she was solicited to be a founding member of the Veterinary Healthcare Team of Arizona. She would serve as a board member, director, president as well as community leader of the organization – to which she still belongs. However, in 2005 economic circumstances, medical conditions and a now lifelong passion served as a catalyst for her to pursue other opportunities as a professional dog trainer. Her business would focus on basic and advanced obedience, but she would later go on to specialize in behavior modification, therapy dogs, and service dogs as well. As with her other professional forays, it was marked by both her overcoming adversary and excellence from the start. She soon found her training methods and techniques were in great demand – even during the ensuing economic crisis of 2008. While many small businesses across the country were shuttering their doors and windows in the face of the crisis, her business persevered. Throughout her time as a professional dog trainer, she has gained multiple specialty certifications from the premier International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) such as; certified dog trainer, certified dog trainer advanced, professional dog trainer instructor and is currently one of only four people currently certified in the world by the IACP as a certified service dog trainer.
Even now, her business survives and thrives, only marginally effected by her blossoming search and rescue career which has been marked by over 1,200 searches both domestically and internationally. While she receives no money for her search and rescue services, despite aiding families in recovering their loved ones and law enforcement organizations in closing cold cases every year – much of the time at great physical risk to herself and her four-legged companions – she continues her work. Through search and rescue and her work as a veterinary technician she has torn her rotator cuff, broken her back, suffered a severe knee injury and contracted West Nile Virus resulting in meningeal encephalitis. Smiling when asked how she continues her work despite this, the answer she will say is simple: sleep less, do more and always, always train hard.
To this day, if you ask Kristi her hobbies she will say tell you that she is a master scuba diver and a water rescue specialist that holds thirteen additional certifications. However, more often than not, when she isn’t working, you will find her mobilizing search teams, planning operations, preparing for Veterinary Healthcare Team meetings or even just training one of her six search and rescue dogs or a client dog. Also, late in the night when she thinks no one is watching, you can find her perched upon her favorite recliner (along with her award-winning search and rescue K-9, Keahi) reading the latest search and rescue, scent theory, or dog training book. So, is she devoted to K-9 medicine? To search and rescue? To training dogs? To serve others? Or, all of these things? That’s for you to decide.