Local official trains, certifies new cadaver dogs at Carbon County facilities
The Carbon County and Salt Lake City Sheriff's offices have recently been working on assembling an elite team of cadaver dogs who are charged with the difficult but essential task of finding what many dread, the remains of a human body.
The animals, sometimes referred to as human remains detection dogs are being trained locally by Carbon County Sheriff's deputy Wally Hendricks. He heads a team that currently consists of four certified dogs.
Hendricks and his dog, Missy, a 14-year-old border collie have an impressive history in this regard. The handler and dog team has been deployed to seven different states and boast over 100 finds. The newly formed team also consists of Tina Hendricks and her 3-year-old Beagle, Thumper; April Moors and her 7-year-old yellow labrador, Lacey and Jennifer Lopez who handles a two-year-old border collie, Ni'jahn.
Moors is a detective with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's office. Additionally, Thumper is the first dog under 14 inches tall to make the team, overcoming a long-standing short-legged stereotype.
According to information provided by Lopez, cadaver dogs and their handlers are trained to locate and follow the scent of human remains. Their job is vital to the families of victims and also to a justice system that often requires human remains to prove a crime has been committed.
"The dogs work both on and off leash and have a variety of "alerts" know only to the handlers as indicators of the exact source of the scent," explained Lopez. "Air scenting and trailing are both used in locating the decomposing human remains."
Cadaver dogs are trained to detect decaying human scent long after death, despite burial or attempted concealment. Trained dogs are able to distinguish between human remains, animal remains and a wide range of other odors that would normally be expected to distract them, she states.
"The cadaver dog team is a specialty team who are in a league of their own, separate from explosive and narcotic detection, and criminal, missing persons search dongs" said Lopez
Actual training of the dogs can take from months to years to master. Most dogs start training as puppies and eventually progress to advanced forensics detection.
According to Lopez, testing consists of five separate areas of expertise required by the dog and the handler. All dogs must pass their testing with 100 percent accuracy before they can be certified.
The five areas include:
"The night search is one of the most difficult areas of the test," she explained. "At night a handler is given a large area and perimeter. They are then asked to release their dog from any area outside the perimeter. The dog must locate the scent without its handler's assistance and must remain at the source of the scent until the instructor is certain the dog is working off its own free will."
Although the need for cadaver dogs is not frequent, when they are needed they prove to be an invaluable and crucial asset, she continued. Handlers are continuously receiving training in crime scene preservation, evidence handling, confidentiality and court room testimony.
"Either a dog and their handler have it or they don't," said officer Hendricks. "This is a time consuming but rewarding experience for dogs and handlers who are willing to give 100 percent."
Hendricks and his wife Tina have been training dogs for more than 30 years and Hendrick's current team operates solely for the Carbon and Salt Lake County Sheriff's departments under the direct supervision of law enforcement.