What the Dog Knows
Jon Patch and crew talk to author Cat Warren about her new book, What the Dog Knows. Cat Warren is a university professor and former journalist with an admittedly odd hobby: She and her German shepherd have spent the last seven years searching for the dead. Solo is a cadaver dog. What started as a way to harness Solo’s unruly energy and enthusiasm soon became a calling that introduced Warren to the hidden and fascinating universe of working dogs, their handlers, and their trainers.
Solo has a fine nose and knows how to use it, but he’s only one of many thousands of working dogs all over the United States and beyond. In What the Dog Knows, Warren uses her ongoing work with Solo as a way to explore a captivating field that includes cadaver dogs, drug- and bomb-detecting K9s, tracking and apprehension dogs—even dogs who can locate unmarked graves of Civil War soldiers and help find drowning victims more than two hundred feet below the surface of a lake
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I was born in Oregon in 1950s, but now live in the South. I came here in 1995 to teach at North Carolina State University and forgot to leave.
I love teaching here. I love watching good dog trainers and good scent dogs work here. I love the mountains and swamps. I will never adjust to North Carolina’s climate. It nurtures fleas and ticks almost year round. Southern air contributes to sweat, rather than evaporating it. I don’t glow. I drip. Cicadas creep me out and kudzu gives me claustrophobia. I’m a Westerner. Still, I’ve fallen for all sorts of southern goods and almost-southern goods, like my husband, David, a successful transplant from the Bronx. Fig trees, stone-ground grits. Early summer squash and fall kale. Several dog trainers. Many dogs, even some bad ones.
My first career, before becoming a professor, was as a newspaper reporter. I covered crime, poverty, the environment, and politics at newspapers across the United States. I battled dry valley heat in California, snow snakes in Wyoming, and ivy and old brick in Connecticut. I was on the special projects desk at the Hartford Courant in the late 1980s when I decided to take a brief break from newspapers to substitute-teach an editing class at a small university in Oregon. It fit me.
I quit newspapers with some regret, though they were already falling victim to changing technology and the maw of profit margins—and went back to school in my mid-thirties to get my doctorate at University of Illinois. There weren’t many distractions there; I looked out on endless fields of soy beans and corn. It was an ideal place to study hard. I became an accidental academic. Now, I teach a variety of reporting, editing, and science journalism classes out of a large and diverse English department.
I blame Solo, my third German shepherd, for this book. The dog didn’t eat my homework. He became my homework. I finally stopped making excuses to colleagues about the time I spent working and learning with Solo and conceded that I had become a sniffer-dog nerd. These days, I juggle cadaver-dog training, bee-raising, teaching and writing, and eating good food. I also yell at the new German shepherd puppy, Coda, for counter-surfing. Of course it’s my fault. What the Dog Knows is my first book. Writing a dissertation and editing a magazine and academic books count, but they weren’t as much fun to research and write.