Sandoval County Fire and Rescue first responder Shannon Farrell and her dog KT work through a test to renew their human remains detection certification for the fourth year. KT has already helped find bodies, including those of two Albuquerque teenagers who had been missing and presumed dead in 2018. Amy Byres photo.

Yes, to certify a canine in human remains detection, dogs have to test with real body parts.
Sandoval County Fire and Rescue first responders David and Shannon Farrell spent April 2 testing their search-and-rescue dogs, Shamus and KT, for a human-remains certification.
KT is the professional in the family, renewing her certification for the fourth time, while Shamus is the rookie, receiving his certification for the first time. Both dogs passed, thanks to the husband-and-wife duo’s training.
According to K-9 Services owner and instructor Kevin Sheldahl, the dogs must pass eight scenarios involving detecting human remains, blood and related stains. The retired deputy sheriff of Bernalillo County said in order to have the test, the use of human remains is vital.
According to Western Carolina University, a human remains detection canine utilizes the odor mortis, or signature smell, of remains to find them. Dogs must be able to detect the four stages of decomposition.
The levels of odor change through the decomposition process, although scientists still don’t know why cadaver dogs can detect human remains with the accuracy they do, according to the CBC, a Canadian news and broadcast network.
Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to the 6 million in humans, according to PBS.
“The standards that I use are ones that are common throughout the world,” Sheldahl said.
Shannon says each dog is different. Before the test, Shannon said she was not worried about KT passing it.
The Farrells have trained many dogs, and have another named JJ, who will take the test in the fall.
“Just training your dog to do the test is different from training your dog to do real-life scenarios,” Shannon said.
David and Shannon live with four German shepherds, and David says they are more work than kids.
The two rotate on training each dog when they have time off from working as first responders.
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KT dashes to an area on the test course where she has detected the scent of human remains. Amy Byres photo.