Nonfiction

What the Dog Knows

This isn’t a review because I haven’t read the book yet, but I am definitely planning to after hearing Cat Warren talk last night at May Memorial Library in Burlington about What the Dog Knows. And it’s not just because I used to be one of her journalism students at N.C. State University! She’s an excellent professor and a captivating speaker, so I know her new book has to be just as good!


The idea for the book came about from the unique hobby Warren picked up about seven years ago after buying an extremely hyper and unruly German shepherd named Solo. A dog trainer friend recommended that she turn Solo into a working dog — namely, a cadaver dog! Cadaver dogs, as the name suggests, help police search for the remains of the dead. Unlike search and rescue dogs, cadaver dogs are trained to seek out the smell of decaying human flesh. It’s a gruesome job, but these dogs are vital in cases where police need to find a body to prove a crime. Warren pointed out that cadaver dogs were also used in the awful landslide in Oso, Washington, to find the deceased and help bring closure to surviving loved ones. You can read more about this on Warren’s blog.

Two things struck me last night… The first was the emotional bond between Solo and Warren. She teared up when telling us how she recently retired 10-year-old Solo. They were a team, she explained, practically on auto pilot because they worked so well together. Now a full-time pet, Solo no longer conducts searches for the police or trains regularly. Warren has a different relationship with her new dog, Coda, and you can tell she misses the “old days” with Solo, who she described as “a natural.”

The other point that stood out to me last night was the contradiction between the type of work these dogs do and the fact that handlers must turn the search into a “game.” As a reward for doing a search, Solo gets to play with his favorite tug-toy, so he associates work as fun. Warren told of being bitten accidentally by Solo, as they were playing tug-of-war, and having to suppress a cry of agony. She didn’t want to make the situation stressful for Solo, she explained, so she held her tongue. This level of dedication is pretty overwhelming!

Here’s a book trailer that shows Warren and Solo at work, and gives more details about the book itself: