Underwater Search Dogs: How crime canines were used in the Hannah Graham case
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WJLA) - Two dogs with Virginia Task Force One's Urban Search and Rescue Team are in high demand for their unique and advanced skills. Garo is a 10-year-old German Shepherd partnered with K9 Search Specialist Elizabeth Kreitler and Fielder is a 5-year-old Border Collie, a rescue pup- saved from an abusive situation, partnered with K9 Search Specialist Sally Dickinson. The K9s have gone through years of extensive training to become certified in detecting bodies underwater. The VATF1 team tells us that only eight K9s are certified to do this in Virginia. These teams are called to boating accidents as well as drowning and missing person cases.
The dogs don't get in the water. They're trained to detect the odor coming from the human remains underwater-- all from the surface. They work with handlers-- strategically searching the water in a grid. As the boat moves around, the dog is trained to indicate when it's picking up the odor. The dog indicates that by lapping the water, leaning close to the water or barking. Every dog's indication is different, so each handler must know their dog's cues to understand what the dog is revealing. The handler marks a GPS device when the dog indicates the odor is close, and then she uses that map with the markings from many passes back and forth, combined with wind, water and air temperatures, and the current to define a very specific area for divers to search.
The dogs are also trained to help on Human Remains Detection cases on land. Garo and Fielder were both called to help search for Hannah Graham. Garo spent two days there, while Fielder spent five days searching. They also both also went to Kyrgyzstan in 2013 to recover a U.S. Airman who perished in a mid-air explosion of a KC 135 aerial refueling tanker .Fielder also went to Oso, Washington this year to search for victims of the mudslides.