Head down, a little black and white border collie named Piper is slowly searching for the faint smell of cremains in the ash-covered rubble of a burned house in Paradise, California. She signals a find by lying down, and handler Lynne Engelbert marks the spot with a pen flag. After the find is confirmed, other specialists go to work. According to Lynne, seven teams of dogs and about 60 archaeologists are involved in the recovery effort of the Cremains in Paradise.
The dog teams, including Lynne and Piper, are affiliated with the non-profit Institute for Dog Forensics (ICF). ICF, based in Northern California, was founded in 1997 by Adela Morris, who serves as President. Morris was deeply involved in the SAR world when, out of curiosity, she took her dog to a historic cemetery to see what she would do. The dog alerted on a grave and an idea was born. Today, more than 20 years later, ICF has a well-earned reputation for successfully identifying historical and prehistoric human remains.
Like other ICF team members, Lynne has provided emergency relief work in the past – in her case more than three decades, including serving at the Oklahoma City bombing site, the post-9/11 World Trade Center, and the Shuttle Columbia recovery mission. When Piper came into Lynne’s life a few years ago, she was a one-year-old puppy who was at risk of euthanasia if a new home could not be found for her. Lynne describes their meeting as follows: “I was sitting on the floor when Piper came through the door. Looking at everyone in the room, she came over and climbed onto my lap. Piper and I were both lucky that day. “
Read more about Piper’s work: Forensic detection dogs help regain precious remains