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Forensic Forum Recap: Adventures of a Forensic Anthropologist and Her Cadaver Dog

by Janelle Hill Nov 9, 2018
DeSales Forensic Forum 2018

Forensic anthropologist Kathy Day began her presentation with a warning: “I hope you’re not squeamish, because we’re going to 'go there' tonight.”

As the speaker for the annual DeSales University Forensic Forum, Day delved into the world of forensic anthropology, sharing stories and photos—many not for the faint of heart—from her long career.

She began by explaining what it is that she actually does: “A lot of times people ask me, ‘What do you do?’ They have no idea.”

Her main job is to help identify human remains. In some cases, she also examines the cause of death. Day discussed cases from her time working for the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s Office—from identifying the body of a man who had committed suicide in the woods to determining the cause of death of a man who was found in his home severely decomposed. 

“It’s not so much that we’re into dead bodies and gore, it’s to help families identify their loved ones and to bring closure.” 

Then there were the cases of mass fatalities that she encountered working with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT). She helped to identify the victims of The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, where 100 people were killed within minutes when a band’s pyrotechnics sparked a massive fire.         

“It was just horrible,” Day said while showing a picture of bodies piled on top of each other. “The point of this is in this day and age, know how to get out. Always be aware; know where the exits are.”  

Day traveled to Rwanda in 2007 and took part in the excavation of a mass grave dating back to the country’s 1994 genocide. In 2010, she went to Haiti within 24 hours after a massive earthquake struck, killing an estimated 220,000 people. Her team was tasked with finding and identifying American victims. 

Day ended the forum on a lighter note, discussing her work with her loyal partner—her cadaver dog Tara, who takes part in search and rescue. Day even held a demonstration, hiding part of a human skull in the room for Tara to find, which she did successfully. 

“They can find one tooth in the woods," Day said. "That’s how good their smell is. It’s really remarkable how well they can smell.”