Head down, a small black- and-white Border Collie named Piper slowly scans for the weak scent of cremains in the ash-covered rubble of an incinerated home in Paradise, Calif. She signals a find by lying down, and handler Lynne Engelbert marks the spot with a pin flag. After the find has been confirmed, other specialists go to work. According to Lynne, seven dog teams and about 60 archeologists are involved in the Paradise cremains recovery effort.
The dog teams, including Lynne and Piper, are affiliated with the nonprofit Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF). Based in Northern California, ICF was founded in 1997 by Adela Morris, who serves as its president. Morris was deeply involved in the SAR world when, out of curiosity, she took her dog into 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 the successful identification of historic and prehistoric human remains.
Like other ICF team members, Lynne has a history of emergency response work— in her case, more than three decades, including deployment to the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, the post–9/11 World Trade Center and the Shuttle Columbia recovery mission. As for Piper, when she came into Lynne’s life a few years ago, she was a year-old pup facing euthanasia if a new home couldn’t be found for her. Lynne describes their meeting: “I was sitting on the floor when Piper came through the door. She looked at all the people in the room, came over and climbed into my lap. Piper and I both got lucky that day.”
Read more about Piper's work: Forensic Detection Dogs Help Recover Precious Remains