John Harring police sergeant and cadaver dog handler with the Billerica PD & Emergency Medical Services (EMS) talked to us about his work. Based 20 miles north of Boston John shared how the cadaver role works in the U.S
Not surprisingly there are some big differences. As a working dog discipline it’s the same. Find the right dog, decide what it’s going to be trained for, scent imprint and then build on the foundations, improve environmental awareness and develop experience. However beyond this simplistic overview is where the differences begin.
John has previous experience as an HRD/SAR K9 handler and is currently working a 4 year old Labrador, lovingly named Tootsie by John’s family.
As can be guessed from John’s title his police department also provides a local emergency medical service which proves very useful as we will learn. As we discussed training and in particular scent imprinting John became puzzled at the use of ‘pigs’ for cadaver training here in the UK. All of Tootsie’s training is done on human remains we were told.
Assuming that there was a registered store of readily available human parts we asked if they were difficult to access. After a grin and a chuckle
John said “What we usually do is take a body part from the freezer, say a finger, warm it up in the microwave then use it for the scent imprinting exercise, though my wife moans a little if it’s too smelly”
John could see we found this statement confusing and went on to explain that in his role with the EMS he was able to acquire human remains from incidents he attends. Regular additions to his body part collection are teeth, minor limbs, bits of flesh and blood, all of which gets bagged up, popped in the freezer and brought out when needed.
Deployments are very different as there is a broad funding stream for specialist services like cadaver and tactical firearms (SWAT) which leads to a healthy attitude to sharing resources. John’s had some good results including the find of a partially submerged body in the middle of a river which Tootsie indicated on from the river bank. John told us he didn’t even realise it was a body until he waded out and discovered it was the man he and Tootsie had been tracking, what he thought was a rock was the man’s head though it was clear Tootsie wasn’t fooled.
There is no national licensing scheme in place though in order to provide standards and legal accreditation states provide certification and in John’s case this is through the Boston Police Department and Connecticut State Police.
What was refreshing talking to John was discovering a wider attitude to accessing human samples for cadaver training. There appears to be a more flexible attitude in the US not just too how dogs are used but the trust that is placed in the dogs and how they are trained. We are not sure such a flexible attitude would ever be adopted here in the UK but wouldn’t you just love to see dogs vans chasing ambulances in the hope of acquiring the odd body part.