Dogs learn where the bodies are buried

Experts to spend weekend teaching dogs to detect human remains
Apr. 06, 2013 @ 08:37 AM

Before unleashing the dogs, Bobby Blackwell carefully buried a human foot that he pulled out of his truck full of human remains. He also dumped about a half jar of viscera fluid, the liquid produced by decomposing bodies, on the ground and kicked around at the dirt with his boot.

One by one as each dog was unleashed into the half-acre field, it ran around, nose to the ground. A majestic hound named “Sister” went first. Then came a German coolie, “Rue.”

Occasionally, a dog would pause at a spot before moving on. To a casual observer, each still seemed to be looking around. It took Blackwell’s expert eye to tell if the dog was “hitting” on the right spots.

It was a chilly Friday morning, the first of a three-day exercise at Green Mountain Park RV and Camping Resort to train dogs in how to find human remains, a specialized skill in high demand among law enforcement agencies and others that have to find missing people.

People and dogs came from as far away as Jackson, Calif., for the event, organized by Caldwell County Sheriff’s Deputy Laura Livingston, Mary Davenport of Independent Search and Rescue Canine Handlers Inc. and Blackwell, who works with Objective First Tactical K9. Also helping with the event is Edwin Grant, a consultant for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who made a name for himself by helping the FBI find two campsites of Eric Rudolph, who later was convicted of four bombings in Georgia and Alabama between 1996 and 1998.

Friday was spent assessing the dogs’ level of training and to establish whether they are suited for cadaver search training. Those that make the cut move on to underwater search training today, and then final training and certification on Sunday.

New to the ways of scent tracking is Pat Tolchin, a veterinarian from Rochester, NY, and her border terrier. She wants to help organizations with their efforts to find missing persons and solve crimes. But her dog is inexperienced.

“I hope he will refine his skills and also have fun,” Tolchin said. “He’s so young and is new at it, I don’t know how he’ll do.”

Dogs must be able to search on or off their leads. When thousands of dollars are spent locating a missing body, accuracy is critical.

“Younger dogs have a hard time locating something they can’t see,” Blackwell said.

By Sunday, the group will know which animals will go on to run with the big dogs, or sit on the porch. The ones that make the cut join an elite group.

“There are very few well-trained cadaver dogs in the country,” Grant said. “This is probably the top training going on today.”