For me, it’s always been about the dogs. My dad, the late, great Michael Patrick Ramsey, was a firefighter and worked with search and rescue dogs. And I’ll tell you what, S&R dogs are terrific. In a search, they can cover more territory, faster, than a person ever could, and they’ll work for hours, so eager to please their handlers and get results. My dad’s search dog, Big George, is retired now and has taken up residence on Mom’s couch.
I worked with Big George for a while alongside my dad and sure, search work is rewarding. But my heart of hearts is in something else–training and handling cadaver dogs.
Yeah, I get it, some people have an instant “Yuck” reaction to the statement above. But think about it, every family deserves closure, especially when a loved one is missing and presumed dead. Cadaver dogs (and their handlers) help bring at least a little bit of peace to what can otherwise be an unbearable situation.
My first HRD (that’s Human Remains Detection) dog was Manny, a sweet Golden Retriever with a big heart. Like all HRD dogs, Manny was the perfect combination--smart enough to go off and search on his own, but responsive enough to his handler to listen to commands. HRD dogs need to use their noses both for ground searches (for when dead human cells have fallen on the ground) and air searches (to detect the scent of decomposition in the air). They need to work over all different terrains and in all kinds of weather, too.
A lot of people ask how the dogs find human remains rather than things like dead squirrels and skunks. The dogs are trained using human body parts from the deceased who have donated their bodies to science. They search for the scent of human death, and human death only.
That makes HRD dogs invaluable to law enforcement but unfortunately, most police departments just aren’t big enough or well-funded enough to keep handlers and dogs on staff. That’s why law enforcement depends on volunteers like me to help with searches.
It’s grueling work, but it’s rewarding, too, and I’ll start telling the world more about it next month when “The Scent of Murder” is published on May 7.
If you live in the northeast Ohio area and are interested in watching search and rescue and cadaver dogs work, join Northeast Ohio Sisters in Crime on Saturday, April 13, at the Perry Sippo Library, 5710 12th St NW, Canton, OH 44708. The program begins at 9 in the morning and includes author panels, a presentation by an FBI agent, and Kylie Logan, discussing the appeal of the mystery. You’ll be able to watch cadaver dogs work, too. The program is free and you can register on the library’s website: https://starklibrary.org/home/locations/perry-sippo-branch/