"It’s not 'Marley and Me,' though dogs are the central characters."
October 23, 2018 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Cat Warren is a university professor and former journalist with an admittedly odd hobby: She and her German shepherd have spent the last seven years searching for the dead. Solo is a cadaver dog. What started as a way to harness Solo’s unruly energy and enthusiasm soon became a calling that introduced her to the hidden and fascinating universe of working dogs, their handlers, and their trainers.

5 Questions With Dr. Cat Warren, Author of ‘What the Dog Knows’

What the dog smelled: The science and mystery of cadaver dogs
Dive teams spent 12 days searching the waters of Elliot Lake in northern Ontario and didn't find a thing.

When the cadaver dogs were called in, they needed just 15 minutes.

Six young people had been making their way home from a night of drinking on an island when their overloaded canoe capsized. Everyone made it back to shore, except for 20-year-old Vinnie Yeo.
Cadaver Dogs – The Nose Knows
On a bright March day near Anchorage, Alaska, Stacie Burkhardt lifts the lid of a chest freezer in a barn. With gloved hands, she picks up an object wrapped in plastic that’s the size and shape of a deer haunch but it’s not. “This is Revlon,” she says, pointing out perfectly manicured fingernails. Underneath lies a foot which Stacie also grabs. “And this is Tootsie.”

These are not animal parts but human.

The smell from the freezer makes Susan Purvis gasp and pinch her nose, even though she and her search dog Tasha spent a decade in what she calls “finding the stinky”—recovery of bodies.

Their dark humor might sound disrespectful but is necessary to cope in their grim profession.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (8 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for the post.
posted by AugustWest at 10:13 AM on October 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Johnny Wallflower has found the perfect fusion of his interests.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:39 AM on October 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you want to help train cadaver dogs as well as contribute to research useful to the scientific, medical, and legal communities in the investigation of missing persons, homicide, genocide, or mass disaster, you can donate your remains to a forensic anthropology research center. The most well known is at University of Tennessee Knoxville, but there are others at Colorado Mesa University, Sam Houston State University, Southern Illinois University, Texas State University, and Western Carolina University, as well as UTS in Australia.
posted by peeedro at 11:09 AM on October 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

The whole being able to smell a body that is submerged thing is impressive. I also like how Kat describes the fine line the handler walks in terms of when to give a treat.
posted by AugustWest at 11:15 AM on October 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's some interesting info and photos of many Good Dogs on the facebook page of the Ottawa Valley search and rescue dog association mentioned in your second link, including their involvement in a recent sad story - finding the body of a young boy who had drowned in the St. Lawrence river 48 days earlier. Very tragic but impressive that they could locate him in such a large body of moving water and so long after death, to provide closure for the family.
posted by randomnity at 12:10 PM on October 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Where I work we collaborate with a team of dogs trained to smell plant-infecting bacteria. If you have an citrus orchard, it would be unbelievably expensive to take enough tissue samples to do enough PCR analyses to make sure you don't have disease in your grove. A team of dogs, however, can go down the rows and detect diseased trees even rows away and even if the infection is at the top of the tree. It's amazing.

There are drawbacks. The dogs tire easily, so the trainer has to know when they aren't effective any more. The training needs to be intensive and refreshed often.

Right now we have two Belgian malinois training at our facility. They came from kennels in some ex-Soviet Bloc country where they weren't very well socialized and they are extremely high-strung. They have an incredible drive to work: when one of them is training, the other will howl and spin in circles in her cage. There is no way to comfort that one: she doesn't want to be petted or talked to, she wants to work. When she gets her turn, a correct response will get her a few high pitched "GOOD GIRL!"s from the trainer and a few minutes chewing her kong as a reward. Then it's back to work.
posted by acrasis at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2018 [10 favorites]

Cadaver dogs and their owners deserve megatons of respect.

Things are changing in the world of dog training. There is so much more we could be using our canine partners for. They can detect several types of cancer, warn patients before seizures start, and alert to low blood sugar levels.

Dr. Dog needs an office.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:23 PM on October 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would absolutely be willing to have a dog sniff me as part of my annual physical. The hard part would be if the dog got a hit. Dr. Dog (thanks BlueHorse) does not likely have the bedside manner of even a rushed physician. He will alert to a hit right away and then it is left for someone else to explain that the reason for the yelping is likely benign. Or not. I am being serious when I say that they could have an emotional support dog waiting in the wings to come comfort a patient whose cancer sniffing dog got a hit.

I wonder if President Trumps version of healthcare insurance would cover a dog diagnosis.

To me, modern medicine should include any method of diagnosis especially a relatively cost effective analysis by an animal.
posted by AugustWest at 6:02 PM on October 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

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