Add Another Talent For Dogs

We know that dogs have a refined sense of smell. They’ve been used to sniff out illegal drugs, contraband at border crossings, roadside bombs, and reportedly even cancer. Recently, I ran across another use for the canine nose.

When families lose a loved one, the most recent trend is to have the remains cremated. Frequently the resulting urn is kept in their homes. The problem arises when a home is destroyed in a disaster, such as the wildfires that have been sweeping through parts of California. How do you find a funeral urn amid the ashes of a ruined home?

It gets worse. The temperatures in these fires can get very high for extended periods and everything, even appliances, are reduced to ash. That’s especially true of the urns, which rarely survive a wildfire, so the human ashes are comingled with whatever is left of the house. So any remains of a loved one would be impossible to find and identify, right?

Enter scent-detection dogs. The non-profit Alta Heritage Foundation, brings dogs trained for human-remains detection to wildfire sites, where they identify the approximate location of human ashes by their scent. Then archaeologists use their skills to excavate the area and attempt to recover the loved one. 

There are no guarantees, but this provides a chance something precious can be returned to a suffering family.

For more information, see “Dogs sniff out cremation ashes amid wildfire destruction” by Alissa Greenberg at

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