Dogs That Work – Barbara & Bella
When Bella, her Belgian Malinois, was only 10-12 weeks old, Jefferson County Coroner Barbara Weakley-Jones began training her in the art of human remains detection. Barbara, who trained six previous cadaver dogs, began by placing blood or decomposed tissue in one of three concrete blocks. When Bella, now 9, would show interest in the scent, she would receive a reward — the bounce of a tennis ball, her favorite toy. Soon, Bella learned to detect the scent with the command “Find it” and signal her detection with a bark.
Several years ago, a skull surfaced in East Jefferson County after a tree crew cleared land for the sewer district. Barbara and Bella were sent out to find the rest of the body. In the open field, Bella alerted next to a large pile of rocks that housed a matte of hair from the victim. Bella, tenacious in her ability to “find it,” refused to stop there. She alerted in a second location, about 100 yards away. While the crew was busy digging at the first site and ignoring Bella’s signal, Barbara followed Bella. “I always say you need to trust your dog. I even have a bracelet with that message on it. The dog doesn’t know how to fool you — if they are alerting, there is a reason,” Barbara says.
It turns out, Bella located the rest of the victim’s remains (a 10-year missing person cold case) in the second rock mound. The body was buried at an angle, causing the skull to disrupt from the site and surface away from the remains.
Barbara has trained six previous cadaver dogs and says training these animals is often the highlight of her week. Her dogs are trained to locate scent on land, in the water, and after disasters like floods and fires.
Besides work, Bella also loves to run and play. She is an energetic alpha female that is great with people. “She is definitely the queen bee. If the other dogs are on the couch, Bella will growl until they clear out and make room for her.”