A Task Only a Dog Could Do

Is Cali a budding search dog?

I heard a great story on NPR recently about dogs helping people. OK, so stories about dogs helping people are nothing new, but this one is different.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Northern California, mostly in Sonoma County not far from where the horrific wildfires burned 5,000 homes and businesses a few months ago. The story was about — stay with me here — trained cadaver dogs helping people whose houses had burned. The dogs were assisting people who had had cremains of family members in their homes.

The dogs are actually able to distinguish the ashes of human cremains from the massive amounts of ash on the home sites.

The forensics expert said that the texture and appearance is different, so, once the dogs alerted to the presence of cremains, the human team was able to separate out the cremains and return them to the families.

A woman interviewed on the show said that her mom had passed away not long before the fires and she’d been planning a memorial service and burial … when the fires intervened. Having lost everything, she was devastated to lose her mom’s remains as well.

Cadaver dog teams came in and the searchers had two dogs, separately, search and alert. If they alerted to the same spot, the humans got busy.

I’m not at all surprised that dogs can do this; I think that dogs can identify and seek out any unique scent, no matter how many other scents are mingled with and surrounding it. I love that people are creative enough — and trust their dogs enough — to come up with an endless variety of ways dogs can help humans do things that, let’s face it, there’s no way humans could do without dogs.

A great book that tells more than you’ve ever wanted to know about training and working cadaver dogs is What the Dog Knows. But it’s not only cadavers … dogs sniff out rare and endangered wildlife (or their scat); living humans; drugs; disease; explosives … anything you can imagine, someone has (or could) trained a dog to find it.

When Cali’s complaining about being bored, I know the problem isn’t with her; it’s my lack of imagination in finding new challenges and games for her. The problem’s hardly ever the dog; it’s the human.

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