Alisa Manzeli, Global Animal

This month, a severed head, hands, and feet were mysteriously found in the Hollywood Hills near the home of actor, Brad Pitt. Two women were walking their dogs through Bronson Canyon Park when one of the dogs, a Golden Retriever named Ollie, began digging under a bush and picked up something large and round in a plastic grocery bag. Initially assumed to be a movie prop—as the site is a popular filming location—dog walker Lauren Kornberg soon identified the object as an actual human head. Ollie just found his second career…as a cadaver dog.

Dogs' noses are so strong that they are even capable of detecting bodies under running water. Water recovery dogs, like the one featured in this picture, search over water to determine the approximate sub-surface location of a human body. Photo Credit: www.ok9st.org

Two days after the initial discovery, the coroner’s cadaver dog, alongside 120 investigators, located the two hands and feet scattered across seven acres of terrain. Although authorities have yet to locate the torso, the victim has since been revealed as Hervey Medellin, a 66-year-old Los Angeles local, in what police described as their biggest search in recent memory.

Cadaver dogs also played a large part in investigating the death of Caylee Anthony, an American two-year-old girl who went missing in July 2008 and was sadly confirmed dead five months later. Mother, Casey Anthony, was tried for the first degree murder of Caylee, but was eventually acquitted.

One of the cadaver dogs used in the crime scene investigation, Gerus, was assigned to smell around Casey Anthony’s car. Upon sniffing the trunk of the car, the dog sat down near the rear bumper, alerting the presence of human remains. The dog also reacted strongly when the trunk was opened. During the investigation, Gerus and Bones, another cadaver dog on the specialized K-9 unit, directed investigators attention to certain spots in the Anthony home’s backyard.

These two stories demonstrate how dogs aid authorities when human detection fails. Dogs’ noses are so sensitive that according to a study published in the Journal of Forensic Anthropology, well-trained cadaver dogs have nearly 100% accuracy rates on human remains detection (HRD).

Like all search dogs, cadaver dogs go through extensive training before becoming certified. They are first trained to recognize a wide spectrum of odors associated with human remains, using only actual human remains—no pseudo scents are used during training. Dogs are exposed to distractions and varying conditions while learning to be steady and dependable in any situation. In addition, cadaver dogs are taught to work as part of a team with a handler. Both dog and handler are always learning and striving for better performance.

Cadaver dogs are an integral component in contemporary police work. Hopefully these trained dogs (or even an untrained dog like Ollie) will be able to further aid authorities as the dismemberment investigation continues in an attempt to track down Hervey Medellin’s killer.

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