The Scott County Search and Rescue K-9 unit is hosting a cadaver dog workshop, which began Thursday and will end Saturday with participants testing for certification through the 30-year-old organization, National Narcotic Detector Dog Association.
"It's more than getting out there and playing with dogs in the woods," said Paul Martin of Greenville, Miss., who is facilitating the workshop.
Participants are learning the hows and whys of the decomposition process, scent production and scent movement as it applies to the search for human remains.
"We're making sure good scent is recognized by the dogs or target source and that we're getting good, solid alerts from the dogs," Martin said.
Martin is conducting the workshop with David Sullivan of Joliet, Ill. Martin has been active with Search and Rescue since 1997 and has been a K-9 handler for the Washington County Sheriff's Department since 2000.
The workshop will also help handlers and their dogs better with search strategies, Martin said. It also includes environmentally based training, he said.
A lot of time is spent conducting on-site searches with handlers and their dogs training to find fluid, tissue and bones hidden in various conditions like rubble, brush, beneath or above ground, etc.
Most cadaver searches are done by civilians and volunteers because law enforcement agencies typically don't have the manpower to work a job, Martin said.
"A lot of what handlers run into is that the agency is looking to them for answers. They're asking the handlers 'Where do we go from here?'" Martin said.
Dana Kammerlohr of Cassville is hoping she and her young border collie, Cappy, will become certified this weekend.
"As a K-9 handler, becoming certified is one of the aspects," Kammerlohr said. "I wanted to learn more and start her -- and you can learn a lot from networking."
Marshia Morton, captain of Scott County Search and Rescue K-9 Unit, said the instructors are very impressive in their knowledge and instruction.
"It's turned into a major deal," Morton said about the workshop. "... It's a certification that has never been offered in this part of country before."
The workshop, consisting of 23 participants and their dogs, was filled in 10 days, said Morton, who was responsible for bringing the workshop to Sikeston. Participants are from Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee and other Missouri cities like St. Louis and Kansas City.
"I have a cadaver dog, and I've been attending seminars," Morton said. "Last spring I attended one where Paul was presenting in Chattanooga, Tenn. I learned with a little bit more work, my dog could be nationally certified."
So she started to train in that direction.
"Then I talked to Paul, and he said if we came up with 10 dogs to test, he'd come up and test them," Morton said.
The Scott County Unit has several multi-task dogs and two cadaver dogs. For the most part these are passive dogs, not aggressive police dogs, she said.
"Many of these dogs are multi-task trained to aid in bringing home loved ones with a quicker recovery period," Morton said.
Martin said he's noticed a surge in the number of workshops and seminars for cadaver dog certification. He said he used to conduct seminars four times a year, and within a month's time, he's done four workshops.
"There was a major increase after 9/11 and then again after Hurricane Katrina. Anytime there's a large scale disaster, it peaks the interest of other people," Martin said.
Following Thursday and Friday's training, participants will be tested for certification on Saturday. Martin estimated 70 to 80 percent of participants will receive certification.
"This workshop is very important because handlers are supposed to train on a regular basis, and a lot of times they don't have anyone to train with so these events help," Martin said.
Morton noted with certification, a dog can play a major role in homicide cases. A dog's sense of smell is at least 250 times greater than humans, she said. Dogs are often used to recover evidence and can alert the handler in a room with just a drop of blood, she said.
"By obtaining certification, there will be a legal way for dogs to search where a homicide might have occurred," Morton said. "... And if it's ever challenged in a court of law, the dog will be as credible as you or I on a witness stand."