The Story Behind The Sniffing
How we got started
Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF) was established in 1997 and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in the Bay Area, California. Our purpose is to help our clients locate burials of prehistoric ancestors and historic cemeteries by using highly trained and certified dog / handler teams for the purpose of preservation and construction mitigation. In 2017, we expanded our services to include cremains recovery in buildings destroyed in California wildfires.
Our organization was birthed out of the Search and Rescue (SAR) world and was founded quite by accident. SAR dogs are trained to find both live and recently deceased people. These handlers and their dogs trained together with other teams on a regular basis. At one of these trainings, Adela Morris (our founder), saw a fenced historic cemetery and decided to let her dog to in to see what she would do. After a few minutes, she alerted on a grave. That was the defining moment that led to the creation of ICF.
Since that time we discovered that a dog trained to find recently deceased humans will typically miss historic and prehistoric burials. This is because the scent of recent dead people is so strong that they won’t notice the weak scent of prehistoric/historic burials. As a result, we’ve modified our search protocols and focus our training only on locating this very old, weak human scent.
Agnew Historic Cemetery - Where it all started
Over the years we have worked with Native American tribes, forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientific disciplines to design and refine our non-invasive approach for locating historic and prehistoric human remains. The results of our work are documented in a number of published papers that you can find in the “News/Pubs” section of this website.
A briefing starts the process at San Antonio Mission with Indian monitors, mission staff and other interested parties. Adela Morris gives an overview of the ICF search process and how the dogs work in the field.
We promote and elevate professionalism in the use of specially trained canines for historic and prehistoric human remains detection. Our research provides needed information on canine olfactory capabilities in locating this specific scent signature. We have developed advanced techniques using canines as an archaeological tool to assist cultural resource management firms, Indian organizations, universities, churches and government agencies in preservation of sacred human burials and cemeteries.
We advocate a teamwork approach and emphasize cooperation between multiple experts, disciplines and agencies that we work with. This website highlights recent projects, clients, published papers, newsletters and news articles that is intended for networking nationally and internationally to inform and promote the exchange of new ideas and discoveries in our field.
How It Works
While our dogs can easily cover many types of terrain, it is important to consider topography, vegetation and weather when planning a survey. These details are discussed when you request a quote and are finalized after the bid is accepted.
Before we begin work, we prepare for the survey by making an overview map of the acreage to be surveyed then break it down into smaller search areas. On site, a field coordinator assigns each handler to a different search area and rotates them until all the areas are covered. We have two dogs work each search area at different times to increase the probability of detection.
The handlers develop a search strategy based conditions in the field before beginning to work their dogs. Our dogs are trained to perform a passive alert, either a sit or down, at the strongest location of historic and prehistoric human remains scent. Searching for this weak scent requires the dog to work slow and methodical keeping his nose just above the ground. If a dog alerts, each one is marked with a pin flag and a GPS coordinate is taken.
A Gold-rush era town Cemetery in Sierra County, CA
After the dog survey is complete, a comprehensive, confidential report is created for the client that detailed results of findings in the field. This includes descriptions of the search areas, search area maps, GPS tracks and coordinates of all alerts, along with a description of our findings.