A two-year-old dog named Hunter is the first Edmonton Police Service dog to specialize in finding human remains, a designation police hope will help in homicide and missing persons investigations.
Staff Sgt. Tom Bechthold said Hunter started training to become a Human Remains Detection Dog in July 2017; he was validated on July 4.
Bechthold said the canine was trained similarly to dogs who detect drugs or explosives; he said Hunter was exposed to different odours slowly, first indoors then outdoors.
“Each odour that we introduce him to, each separate one, we’ll do that separately for teeth, for hair, for whatever odour the medical examiner provides us with on those rags,” he said.
The dog handler said environmental conditions, such as wind and sun, affect how quickly Hunter is able to sniff something out.
“It never ceases to amaze me how strong their sense of smell is. The amount of hair we use, a little clump like that,” Bechthold said indicating a width of a centimetre, “I’ll put it in a tree somewhere up high and sense him in. You’ll see him work the scent and he’ll put his paws up on the tree.”
Bechthold said Hunter has been trained to detect remains that are buried and there will soon be additional training to detect remains that are underwater.
While the dog hasn’t had any real world experience yet, Bechthold said that could happen at any time; he said Hunter will be an asset to investigations in the city.
“Anytime we can help expedite any type of investigation, whether it be a homicide investigation, historical homicide investigation, missing persons investigation, the more we can do that, the better. If we can provide closure to families by locating human remains then that’s what we’re here to do,” he said.
Other police forces in the province have these types of dogs, Bechthold said, adding it was “past due” for the EPS to get one.
“The amount of requests that we were getting, they were starting to increase. The use of human remains detection dogs across North America has increased quite a bit,” he said.
Hunter can likely work for approximately seven years, Bechthold said, though he could potentially work for longer. The canine is the only dog of his kind on the police force right now, though Bechthold said the service hopes to get a second one in the future.
“It’s ideal to have two to be able to run two dogs through the same environment as a double confirmation. Right now, we don’t have the staffing levels to do that so…we’ll just have to wait,” he said.