• 54°

D.G. Martin: In love with a sociopathic dog

D.G. Martin

D.G. Martin

D.G. Martin

“Hey, come here, will you? Quick. The dead stuff is over here. Let me show you.”

These are the thoughts of Solo, a German shepherd that loves his job. His job is finding the lost remains of dead humans.

These dog thoughts have been translated by N.C. State writing professor Cat Warren in “What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs.”

But simply calling Solo “her dog” is misleading. Warren’s relationship is more than owner-pet. Solo is her child, playmate, best friend, business partner, and boyfriend. She is totally into this animal.

Solo is a cadaver dog. He uses the keen sense of smell and high energy his genes have given him to find dead bodies or what remains of them.

Solo’s genetic gifts set him apart. But they do not, by themselves, make him a successful cadaver dog.

He needs trainers and a human companion to hone his gifts and connect him to the needs of the human community.

Warren describes how these connections develop. In her memoir, Warren describes the ups and downs of her love affair with Solo. Eventually Solo became a talented and valuable asset, a welcome addition whenever a group searched for a missing person.

However, Solo’s success did not come quickly or easily. As a singleton (a puppy in a litter of one), he lacked the social skills other dogs gain by interacting with their siblings.

When Warren and her husband first brought Solo into their house, “He spent his first night with us whining and growling, methodically chewing through an inadequate and expensive fabric show cage.”

Warren writes that she fell into her husband’s arms and cried, “I don’t like him.”

She writes, “I saw a grim future, a German shepherd roaring through our house and marriage, leaving shards of pottery and anger.”

Still they realized that Solo was the smartest animal they had ever seen, and they fell in love with him, even though he was, they thought, “an unpredictable sociopath.”

Warren recounts the long process of training Solo, starting with simple experiences like having scented material in only one of a set of boxes, and having him indicate the correct box.

Later, more taxing exercises trained Solo to focus only on the distinctive scents released by dead humans.

The growing affection Warren felt for Solo would be enough to sustain this poignant memoir.

But Warren, a respected journalist before she came to N.C State, uses Solo’s story as a framework to share a fascinating variety of information.

She gives her readers science lessons to help them understand how the senses of animals and humans operate.

She recounts numerous examples of working dogs in all sorts of different projects: mine sniffing for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, tracking the paths of suspected living criminals, identifying airline passengers carrying drugs or explosives, and assisting law enforcement officers in apprehending dangerous criminals.

Also, she describes with grudging admiration the efforts of some scientists to develop substitutes for sensing dogs, either using alternative animals, or complicated machines.

In the end, however, her loyalty to Solo and Solo’s cousins leads her to express strong skepticism about the possibility of finding anything that could do a better job than her beloved Solo.

This book has another story, one of how the book got written. In a lengthy appendix, she describes how and where she found the information shared in her book, making it both a model and a guide for how to research, organize and write non-fiction.

The story of the author’s love for her animal is heartwarming. The related factual information that she gathered and shares is mind-expanding. That blend makes for a fine reading experience.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

Comments

Business

With remote expansion, outsource provider FCR looks to become an ‘exceptional part’ of Rowan community

Local

City expects $1.5 million surplus in current budget, ability to raise some wages for police, public works

Education

Enochville Elementary to host farewell event May 1

High School

High school softball: Carson beats West in a wild one

College

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will speak at NC State graduation

High School

Wonders, Trojans facing off Monday on Cannon Ballers’ field

Local

City approves two apartment developments, more than 160 new units

Nation/World

Crowds react with joy, wariness to verdict in Floyd’s death

News

Bill seeks to end pistol purchase permits from NC sheriffs

Coronavirus

Rowan County sees 300th death attributed to COVID-19

News

Chauvin convicted on all counts in George Floyd’s death

Local

Top North Carolina House finance chair, Rowan representative stripped of position

Crime

One charged, another hospitalized in fight between cousins

Business

Commissioners green light additional houses at Cherry Treesort in China Grove

Local

Bell Tower Green renamed to honor Stanbacks; Nancy Stanback receives key to city

Education

A.L. Brown will hold in-person, outdoor graduation

Local

Granite Quarry awards FEMA contract for Granite Lake Park

Local

City to vote on apartment developments, final phases of Grants Creek Greenway project

High School

High school football: North receiver McArthur a rising star

Columnists

Carl Blankenship: Pollen and prejudice make their return

News

Harris pitches $2.3T spending plan on trip to North Carolina

Nation/World

Murder case against ex-cop in Floyd’s death goes to the jury

Crime

Sheriff’s office: Man takes deputies on chase with stolen moped

Coronavirus

Afternoon, evening COVID-19 vaccination clinic planned Thursday