Are you a dog lover?
I am. Always have been. Some of that, of course, is because of my dad. He was a firefighter and in his spare time, the world’s best search and rescue dog trainer. Dad was my hero and growing up, he took me to training with him. Search and rescue dogs are fabulous and Dad’s dog, Big George, was the best. Training was grueling but interesting. I was fascinated.
But I wanted something different.
Dad helped me find that, too, pointing me in the direction of working with Human Remains Detection dogs, what’s commonly called cadaver dogs.
That was ten years ago and yeah, there are people who will tell you I eat, breathe, and live HRD dogs. You know something? They’re right!
My first HRD was Manny, a Golden Retriever with heart and brains and the sort of can-do attitude every cadaver dog needs. Does the breed matter? Not at all, not nearly as much as the dog’s intelligence and stamina.
See, a cadaver dog needs to learn ground search techniques, for those times when dead cells, or body parts, or the smell of decomposition are on the ground. And the dog needs to learn air scenting for those time when the scent of decomp is in the air. HRD dogs need to be obedient enough to listen to their handlers’ commands, and independent enough to go off on a search, to make decisions, to report anything they find through their barking and their demeanor. They need to be hardy, too. HRD dogs and their handlers work in all weather, over all terrains.
It’s not easy and it’s all done by volunteers who give their time and their talents not only when they’re actively involved in a search, but in countless hours of training and classroom work and testing.
I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
Of course there’s a flip side–there are times we find the dead and that’s never easy. My newest search is a case in point: an abandoned building, a training exercise, and the body of a girl, a former student at the school where I work. That cold night, I couldn’t have imagined where my HRD skills and the dogs would lead me–to secrets and lies, to love and betrayal. To murder.
“The Scent of Murder, book #1 in the Jazz Ramsey mysteries, will be published May 7 by St. Martin’s Minotaur.