Cadaver dogs do critical and emotionally taxing work

Nexus during recent training. (KATU Photo)

K-9s Coal-Rook and Nexus are fresh off a job of detecting death.

Their job is far from glamourous, but cadaver dogs readily perform a task no person or robot could do: sniff out decomposing flesh.

“If you grew up watching these shows like “Bones” and the “CSI” kind of stuff, you’re kind of put into that scenario. It’s really interesting to be a part of it,” said Michelle Schireman, with Mountain Wave Search and Rescue.

Working behind the scenes, the dogs provide an essential tool for law enforcement.

“He can smell anything – from someone dying within a few hours to 20 years. So to the full body out to where it’s just bones,” said Scott Lee, a search volunteer with Mountain Wave Search and Rescue.

He and Nexus train two to three times a week.

“We train on all different levels of bones and flesh and tissue and organ – all the levels of decomposition,” Lee said.

During recent training, the team hid human bones, and within minutes Nexus hit the mark.

His nose has made a difference many times. He has helped in the search for victims buried under the 2014 Oso, Washington landslide. Most recently he helped find the bodies of an Aloha teen and a sex abuse suspect near Pittock Mansion.

Lee said these finds are critical for victims’ families.

“To help start that closure process for the family for people who are missing,” he said.

And while the reward is great, it’s not without consequence.

“It’s emotional for us as people. It also becomes emotional for the dogs,” said Lee.

It’s something Lee noticed when Nexus found the bodies.

“Even within 10 to 15 minutes after of locating them, I could tell he was a bit more subdued,” Lee said.

He said sometimes dogs will take a few hours to come down. But then they are ready to go to the next job.

Search and rescue dogs suffer similar emotional woes.

During the search for survivors after the 9/11 attacks, live people would hide in the rubble of the World Trade Center so dogs could find someone alive. Without those successes, many of those dogs burned out within days.

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