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WCU hosts nationwide cadaver dog training program

Western Carolina University is out for the summer, and dogs are roaming around campus. Cadaver dogs and their handlers from across the country are attending a training program. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Western Carolina University is out for the summer, and dogs are roaming around campus. Cadaver dogs and their handlers from across the country are attending a training program.

The 6-year-old program is attracting national attention. The human-canine teams are learning additional skills to help them track and find remains of people who've gone missing.

Colette Falco is handler from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona. Her team's dogs, used to desert conditions, are learning from the greenery of the Western North Carolina mountains.

“More examples of what scent could be and such big sources, things like that and different levels of decomposition, as well.” she said of what the dogs are learning.

But lessons from this training extend to her, too.

“What you should be tracking every single time, how you should be tracking, your training, your searches, your certifications,” Falco said.

These human-canine teams have a hard job.

“Every missing person is somebody's child,” said Brad Dennis, who heads up a national center for missing kids.

Anyone who goes missing, no matter the circumstances, Dennis wants to find them. These dogs help.

“They can work on remains that are very recent, and they can work on remains that have been in place for a long period time,” Dennis said.

He says WCU has the facilities and the commitment in the classroom and in the field.

Brianna Murray just graduated from WCU’s Forensic Anthropology Program and knows handlers must learn how to read their dogs, for example, when they wag their tails.

“If all of a sudden it stops and they sort of slow down, you can tell that they're in odor,” she said.

“We want to be able to deploy the tools and the resources necessary to make that recovery possible," Dennis said. “When someone goes missing, you want to be able to find them, regardless of what the outcome is.”

Falco has done some sports training with dogs.

“But I realized it's not as fulfilling as this is because it doesn't have the community service, the service to families.”

Teams from at least 14 states are represented, plus a team from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Training continues through Saturday. The experts said working-type dogs like shepherds and retrievers are best in this kind of work.

Another cadaver dog training will take place at WCU in October.

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