Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

Placenta Potpourri

Posted by douggoodman on January 29, 2012 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Okay, so I did something odd today.


The team is working on certifications, and our certification requirements direct us to use 15g or less of source material.  Since by circumstance I happen to have the other trainer's scent items, I decided to break out my trusty food-turned-dead-guy measuring scale and find out how much these items weigh.


Unfortunately, most things weigh a lot, and it is hard to measure the amount of placenta juice used say, in a placenta brick (quikcrete + placenta (placenta replaces the water)) or a placenta log.  So to be as scientific about it as I could, I decided to just measure it all and see what happens.


The results were not as good as I hoped.  WIth all the new scent materials we have acquired since November, only a few (less than 10% is my guess) fit within the range.  In the interest of full disclosure (because what is a blog if not full disclosure?), I have a lot of bloody gauze/rags that fit in that range.  However, a couple of years ago I spoke to some more knowledgeable people than me, and I asked them about blood because it was (at the time) our most abundant resource.  They said that blood is generally frowned upon because it does not create as much scent as other source types.  For certification, they recommended bone or flesh.  To bring it all full circle, this is why I completely ignored all my "bloody tissue" samples that fell in the <15g range.


So what went so wrong uring this little exercise in grotesquery?  I had been doing everything right, but then I got ambitious.  I decided to OPEN a placenta jar and pour the liquid into a children's medicine measuring cup, which I could then weigh to find out how full it needed to be to make 15g of scent.  I opened the Smucker's jar.  At first there was no problem.  About five second later the scent went nuclear.  It was stinkin EVERYWHERE.  And I mean everywhere, as in Gary Oldman screaming E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E in The Professional.  Man, that was pervasive.  I thought smelly diapers were bad.  But year-old placenta?  That is a whole new level of stench.  Good Gawd!  That is some potent potpourri!


So if you are every going to work with the stinkables, and especially placenta, I highly recommend doing this work outside, either in the garage or in the backyard.  I got lucky and didn't drop any, but if I had dropped that jar and placenta soaked into the concrete...well, I think I'd be committed to not selling the house for another couple of years.


Posted by douggoodman on June 20, 2010 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I spent a long time grocery shopping yesterday.  I had to stand in line at the pharmacy, I kept criss-crossing the store because I forgot something on the other side, and I spent maybe half an hour looking at tupperware.  I'm a 21st-century kind of guy.  Love looking at tupperware.  But not for the same reason you probably look for tupperware.


Tupperware is ideal for storing Fred.  And I need to be explicit:  I don't mean necessarily Tupperware brand merchandise, but plastic storage containers in general. 


Since I recently received some new Fred, I wanted to get some containers that weren't envelopes and cardboard boxes.  Even when frozen, there is just the risk of contamination.  And working in the field with the dog, there is the risk of contamination.  Admittedly, I didn't worry about contamination so much with my dogs when I knew who and where every scent item was coming from.  Once you start adding inmates and people you've never met into the equation, however, and I want to make sure my dogs can smell the object without touching the object.  Plastic containers are ideal because they have such a thick, solid barrier between the item and the dog.


Steamers Are Best


Ideally, I want something that I can open and let scent out of, yet the dogs can't touch it.  I started out using regular tupperware.  The problem was that once you pull off the lid, the dog can get inside it.  So I looked into pop-a-top tupperware. 


Open Top.  Note the addition

of a "seasoned" residual item. 
In this case, an old sock.


Pop-a-top containers let me open just a part of the lid.  This was much better and made it less likely for the scent item to fall out.  However, if the scent item was tiny (like an umbilical cord), then it could still fall out.  I remember one time crawling through the grass next to a manhole because the umbilical cord fell out.  I went almost blade-by-blade looking for it, and thankfully I found it.  (Yes, I could have used a dog, but no, I didn't want to.  The exercise was over, it was summer, and the pup was winded.)


Pop-a-top, my friend...


So even pop-a-tops have problems.  The best tupperware I have found is a steamer.  Steamers usually have a small hole (less than an eighth of an inch) at one side.  There is a button you press that opens the steamer.  The scent then is carried out of the box (i.e., there is a strong scent indication).   Because the hole is so small, the dog cannot physically touch the item. 


The Kemah Steamer


Yesterday I bought one small steamer cup for the meat slug.  I also bought a large lettuce-storage container.  This is like the "deluxe" cadaver container.  The beauty of the lettuce container is that there are two-fold openings.  There is a small turn device that opens tiny holes in the side of the container.  There is also a lid on the bottom of the lettuce holder that when popped, reveals an entire underside of popped holes.  This is wonderful!  The lettuce container is large enough to hold the blood bag, and it has holes on one side so that the scent can be carried out (not that I should be too worried about the scent being carried - that is one smelly bag that's going in there). 


Lettuce containers: 
Perfect for blood bags

Note the holes in the bottom


Last but not least, I want to add a word of caution.  Just because the scent items are "contained" does not mean handlers should relax their rules when working with scent items.  One slip, and you will get all kinds of nastiness all over you.  It is better to be safe than to be covered in unknown gore. 

Fred in the Shed, Part 2

Posted by douggoodman on June 14, 2010 at 10:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Oh.  My.  God.


I finally got a chance to crack open the new case of Fred.  My wife and daughter are away for conferences/summer camps, and my son was asleep, so it felt like the right time to open the box.


First, I put two layers of gloves on.  Then I draped the area with trash bags, which I would throw in the garbage as soon as I was done.  I reminded myself of right hand - clean, left hand - dirty, and then I pulled the box out of the freezer.  I was anxious to open up the box and see what was in there.  The nurse had described some of the parts as "meaty."  I was a kid looking in a magician's hat, looking for the white rabbit.  I found sealed envelopes.


The first one had a prison inmate's number written on it.  That kind of got me going.  I opeend it, and the first two biohazard bags were nothing too spectacular - -bloody gauze.  All of it bloodier than some of my best gauze, but bloody gauze nonetheless.  Then I pulled something out of the bottom of the envelope.  As I did, I got a good whiff.  It smelled nasty.  I don't mean gross.  I mean, make you cough it is so disgusting.  It was black and red and I think there was gauze in there somewhere.  I dubbed it "the blood bag."  I think there might be a half-pint of blood in the biohazard bag.  I was glad I froze it.  I can't imagine what it would have smelled like warm.  I weighed the blood bag, then put it back as soon as I could, and folded up the envelope.  Gah.  I can still smell it. 


The next sealed envelope offered two more bloody gauzes.  I think we are good on the bloody gauze.  I need to recheck, but I think I have over fifteen pieces of bloody tissue, paper towels, band-aids, and gauzes.  For blood, we're good.


Again, though, at the bottom of the sealed envelope, I saw something a little odd.  It was a blue-capped cup, like the kind you give samples in.  It looked like a small, 1-inch long slug was clinging to the side.  I opened the cup.  I am just going to call it "slug meat."  There was something with hair in it, though what it was or what part of the body it came from, I sure don't know. 


I recorded everything in the log, resealed and re-wrapped everything and (still coughing), put the box of smell good back in the freezer.  This is a great haul, exactly what a human remains dog handler needs.  Good, strong scent material, which is different from most of my scent items. 


Now I can't wait to use it...

Fred in the Shed

Posted by douggoodman on May 22, 2010 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Today we did compass work training and people skills.  I don't consider myself a huge fan of compass work; however, I think it is necessary to continuously practice using your compass.  In this case, a giant circle was set up with tiles placed at 30 degrees apart, so it looked like a giant wheel without spokes.


After we finished, I noticed a box wrapped in a plastic bag.  The movie Se7en ran through my head.


What's in the box?  C'mon....what's in the box?


Turns out I wasn't that far off from what Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) found in the box, but I haven't opened it yet.  I wanted to create a safe place to keep it first.  I've got kids.


I was so ecstatic after finding out what that I had new "Fred," I had to rewrite my day.  It felt like Christmas and my birthday all at once.  Obtaining Fred, especially Fred large enough and smelly enough to search on, is a difficult process, mostly involving a lot of begging and a lot of denial.  (I guess that makes it a lot like writing.)


First up, materials.  I needed new plastic bags, and gloves, and I needed a freezer.  I needed to treat this stuff like the worst material on Earth because it came from unknown sources.  A nurse at a local hospital was kind enough to donate the material.  So it could be anything in there. 


The freezer is the big component.  I have always wanted to get a freezer so that I could put "Fred in the shed."  There are two reasons for it.  First, bacterial aging.  The smell of decomposition is the smell of bacteria working on a scent material, whether it is blood, bone, or flesh.  The chemicals produced from the decomp is what the dog hits on.  Therefore, the longer you keep the source material, the less of it you have, and the more decomposed it becomes.  It would be safe to say that in some cases the dog is sniffing a 5-year old bloody gauze, even if the gauze was placed in the training zone twenty minutes ago.  So a freezer would curb the decomp by keeping the bacteria less active.


The second reason should be obvious if you have children.  No way I want that stuff kept somewhere they could easily get to it.  So when my family and I went out today looking for a freezer, I asked to see freezers with locks, depsite my wife's warnings that I sounded like a serial killer when I asked for a locked freezer.


Thanks to my mini-van, I had no problem getting the freezer into the back and carting it home.  From there is was a question of making room for it and plugging it in.  Currently it is frosting up.  I hope to later tonight or early tomorrow load the freezer with the Fred.


Fred in the Shed

Last year I took a course on Bloodborn pathogens, a required part of HRD handler certification through NASAR.  Although I took it, I think It is time to renew the course.  The safest thing to do is treat this stuff like the worst stuff on Earth - think of all kinds of diseases and assume the source material has them.  Treat it with respect, always wash, and keep it locked when not in use.

Birthday Surprise

Posted by douggoodman on April 1, 2010 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

My birthday was a few days ago.  There was cake, great food, some cool gifts from the family, and an umbilical cord.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This is life as a human remains dog handler, folks.  Other people maybe get a little wine or a gag gift for their birthday.  I get...well, a gag gift, but not the kind most people get.  Of course, I was happy to have it.  Very happy, in fact.  To be clear, it wasn't a complete umbilical cord.  This is just the nub (medical term) of the cord that falls off the baby a few weeks after birth.


This is my third umbilical cord.  I use my son's, a friend's church member's, and the doctor friend of that church member's.  (In the later cases, we are talking about the children of these people and not the cords of the adults.)  My son's cord is great.  The second cord I got was nice, too, but it is strongly flavored with iodine, so I am letting that one "breathe" for a while.  The third one had less iodine than the others.  For some reason, it looks like a burned up balloon twisty.  To note for all you umbilical cord aficionados, a baby's nub looks like a balloon twisty fell off the kid.  It's not what you would expect, but neither is an umbilical cord on your birthday.  And I like the unexpected.

Give The Dog A Bone

Posted by douggoodman on February 24, 2010 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (0)

A few weeks ago, I got my bones from Skulls, Unlimited.  I was really excited about working with them, but there was a death in the family, so I had to postpone working with the dogs.


When I got home, I took the rib out to a field near my home.  I decided to introduce Mojo to the rib on a "West Texas" search.  Meaning, it is flat, and there is a lot of wind, so finding it should be easy.  There are no distractions, no confederates, nada.  Just the rib.  I also placed a second scent item (a paintbrush with residual scent) farther into the field.  The wind was coming out of the northwest at 13 mph, which is good wind for searching.  I let the rib age while I went home and worked Rider.


For Rider, I brought out some of the usual suspects:  cremation in a pillbox, teeth in a plastic syringe bottle, and the umbilical cord in tupperware.  She loved them all with a passion.  Nosed each one of them, but especially the umbilical cord.  Dogs like the cord.


But when it came to the vertebra, she took a whiff, then turned her nose.  Every time I brought it out, she would start towards it, then walk away.  I was disheartened.  This was not the response I was hoping for when I invested in the bones.  I just hoped Mojo wouldn't react the same way to the rib.


He didn't.


Back at the field, I gave Mojo the command to search.  He stopped briefly to nose a cinder block that was in the scent cone, but otherwise he went into the scent cone with his nose forward and his tail up.  He showed me three or four corners, then went directly to the rib.  He alerted on it, too.  The whole thing took him less than five minutes.  I didn't even take him to the second item.  I was ecstatic.  While I had made it an easy search, he went to the rib faster than any search I have seen him do.  It will be interesting to see how he reacts when the search is made more difficult.


The rib weighs 6 grams.  Believe it or not, this barely qualifies it as a good scent source.  (Human Remains Dog Examiners have told me 5 grams is the minimum to train on.)   Still, the rib is about three times bigger than my previous largest item.  The result was obvious.  The dog had a much more confident approach to the scent item.


By comparison, the vertebra weighs 15 grams.  That is almost three times the scent item of the rib.  I am sure this is what was causing Rider to turn her head.  It was just too much scent material too early in the training.  It overwhelmed her.  Mojo also may have had to get used to the scent item.  Perhaps it was the wind, but perhaps the larger, new scent item was causing him to show me the corners, which he hasn't done in a long while.


Next time, I will switch the bones.  Let Rider take the smaller rib and see if she has a similar reaction, and give Mojo the big bone.

Bone Collector

Posted by douggoodman on February 9, 2010 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (0)

A few months ago, some fellow SAR team members showed me a website that sells human bones for search and rescue work.  I have always been curious about Skulls Unlimited.  They are real human bones.  The bones are cleaned in hydrogen peroxide and then stored with other bones to helpe keep the scent.  I have always been hesitant to try them because I wondered about the vitality and robustness of the scent item.  However, I haven't been able to get anything but teeth, and my contact at NASAR (National Association of Search and Rescue) warned against only training a cadaver dog on teeth.  (The scent is very, very faint.)  To give an example, it was recommeding the dogs be trained on scent items that weigh at least 5 grams.  My largest scent item is still under 2 grams.  In addition, Skulls Unlimited has been featured on Dirty Jobs, and if you can't trust a company featured in a Mike Rowe show, who can you trust?


I ordered two pieces:  a thoracic vertebra and a rib.  I am not sure which vertebra exactly I will be getting or which rib.  I hope that the paperwork that comes with the bones will provide me with more information. 


Should be at least 5 grams...

Dibs on the rib.

It is times like this when I do wonder if I am deranged.  I have just purchased a human rib and vertebra with the intent of throwing it in a field and sending dogs to go find it.

Could this be more morbid?  Only if I bought the pieces with money made on sales of my stories Haruspex (about divining the future from bones) and Queen Anne's Corpse.  (And people wonder how I can keep my SAR work and my writing connected.)