This is a Q&A with author Cat Warren that I wrote last month, it ran in the Charlotte Observer on April 20. (Shared with the News & Observer on the same day.) I’m reposting it on Wild Muse. Selfishly, I loved having the chance to interview Warren because I had recently read her book, What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs (Simon and Schuster 2013) and could not put it down. I was enthralled to learn more about her work with dogs that detect human remains, and she didn’t disappoint! – TDB
Cadaver dogs have been searching the recent mudslide in Oso, Wash., to recover victims’ remains. But how do dogs sniff out the perfume of death? N.C. State associate English professor Cat Warren authored “What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs,” a 2013 book (Simon & Schuster; $26.99) about her experience working with a cadaver dog, law enforcement and forensics experts. (Questions and answers have been edited.)
Q. What compounds are cadaver dogs sniffing out?
A. There are any number of volatile compounds that make up human remains. You want a dog who is trained to recognize a whole range of scents related to death, whether it’s coming from dried bones or the recently dead. Dogs exposed to this range in training have no trouble. The dog is trained to trek back and forth until it picks up the edge of a scent, then it tries to get to the spot where that scent is most concentrated. The dog’s body language changes, and the dog’s handler knows when the dog is “in scent”; they see the dog slow down, concentrate, and work its nose really hard. But the dog should also have a trained final indication, an alert. For both my dogs, Solo and Coda, they lie down.
Q. How do the dogs filter out carcasses of wild animals at a search site? Continue reading