Training in human remains detection pulls in ‘cadaver dogs’  and their handlers from across the nation

A group of four-legged students possessing powerful senses of smell visited WCU in May as 66 dog handlers from across the Eastern United States brought their canine partners to Cullowhee to take training in human remains detection.

cadaver dogs

The handlers and their dogs, commonly referred to as “cadaver dogs,” traveled to campus from 25 states (and one team came from Canada) to take part in field exercises and listen to lectures given by WCU faculty members and outside speakers – all with the intent of improving the skills of the dogs and handlers when they are called upon to assist in searches for human remains. Cadaver dogs are typically used during criminal investigations and search and recovery operations.

Intermediate and advanced cadaver dog training was offered through WCU’s Office of Continuing Education in cooperation with the university’s forensic anthropology program. The event was coordinated by Paul S. Martin ’11, a graduate of that program who has specialized in human remains detection since 2000 and who has conducted searches or consulted on cases for local, state and national agencies.

The May session was the fourth cadaver dog training event held at WCU. Intermediate training was offered at the inaugural session in May 2011, then again in November 2011 and in March of this year. The training sessions are the brainchild of Martin and Cheryl Johnston, a WCU associate professor of forensic anthropology who also leads research and education at the university’s Forensic Osteology Research Station, or FOREST.

The cadaver dog training in Cullowhee has proven to be extremely popular, Martin said. The three sessions held since last fall have filled through online registration in a matter of minutes. Martin said the training at WCU, offering a combination of field practice and classroom lectures, is something the dogs and handlers “can’t get anywhere else.” A big lure is that the teams of dogs and humans have an opportunity to be exposed to full body decomposition at the FOREST, he said.

Mickey Januszkiewize, a retired law enforcement officer now affiliated with the Charleston-based South Carolina Service Dogs, came back to WCU to participate in the May advanced training with her 8-year-old black Lab, Abby, after attending the first session a year before.

“The opportunity to work in the FOREST is typically something you don’t get, and the fact that they bring in extra speakers is bringing up everyone’s level in their training,” Januszkiewize said. “I enjoy getting input about what my dog is doing and what I’m doing and how we can continue to get better.”

–By Randall Holcombe