The earlier euphemism that media and officials used for the search at Oso, "specially trained dogs," has been abandoned. These dogs, cadaver dogs, are trained to search for the scent of human remains. As tragic as this disaster is, the dogs still provide hope. It's crucial work to recover the dead-and the dogs with their handlers are the first step.
"Every area we went to, I was told, ‘Dog teams are our main resource, our guides,'" said Cat Best, of Walla Walla Sheriff SAR K9, who worked the area with her black German shepherd, Izzy. It was the first disaster she had worked, and she was honored and awed to be there.
Said another handler, Phoebe Duke of Intermountain Search Dogs out of Spokane, Wash., who worked with her nearly 9-year-old golden retriever, Porter, for three days at Oso and has turned around to return after a rest: "The search is totally around the dogs."
Their dogs were willing to go in, to go up, to go over. They are trained to recognize the complex scent of human remains, with its hundreds of volatile compounds, and to signal that find to their handlers. Scent may be wafting from under water, running down the current, getting pulled into the debris of log piles, or slipping out from under many feet of mud, perhaps because a piece of debris has given it enough air to escape. It's a confused scent picture on the site.