Volunteers hid bones and hair as the room went silent. On command, Rhea, a 2-year-old border collie, went to work pacing and sniffing the room for clues. For Rhea, finding the bone meant a reward from her trainer. But Rhea’s work is much more than the clever trick of a well-trained dog.
Nearly 100 turned out last Thursday for search dog demonstrations held throughout the day on campus by founder of the Institute for Canine Forensics Adela Morris.
Brought to La Verne by the sociology, anthropology and criminology department, Morris and her dogs have worked on several noteworthy cases including the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, the Polly Klaas murder investigation and the aftermath of the Loma Prieto earthquake.
One of Rhea’s demonstrations Thursday was to find several human bones, while the other dog searched for human hair.
Morris and her dogs have worked in canine detection since 1986.
Recently Morris has been a consultant for the television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Morris told the audience that the dogs are trained for specific crime scene searches and their training must be continually updated.
Only about 10 dogs in California can do the kind of work Rhea does, Morris said.
While German shepards used to be the breed of choice for search dogs, Morris said border collies, golden retrievers and mixed breeds do a great job.
German shepards are too big for some jobs and they also have health problems, Morris said.
During a lively question and answer session, Emily Romo, a sophomore biology and English major, asked Morris if her dogs ever pick up on a trainer’s fear in potentially dangerous situations.
These dogs do tend to pick up on fear and, like people, some dogs are more sensitive than others, Morris said.
Romo said she found the canine demonstration very informative.
Aleta Kerker, executive assistant university librarian, wanted to know if the dogs get depressed.
Some dogs do experience depression, Morris said. They also pick up fear and other scents.
At a crime scene on two different occasions her dogs picked up a fear scent and fled the house, Morris said.
“When I first walked in I didn’t know the connection between forensics and the dog and how the animal uses scent not sight,” said Telon Weathington, a freshman broadcasting major.
“Adela really emphasized that and I see myself looking more into dog forensics vs. police forensics now,” Weathington added.
Morris’s dogs also have extensive experience in historic and archaeological investigation projects, including locating the Donner Party camp and finding unmarked graves associated with the San Mateo Poor Farm Project, as well as the 3,000-year-old Ohlone Indian graves in Fremont, Calif.
Her dogs have been instrumental in solving several murder and kidnapping cases.
Vitoria Drost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.