Cadaver dogs pick up a scent as the search for Serenity continues

Published: Apr. 29, 2019 at 6:25 PM CDT
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Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom says multiple dog teams picked up a cadaver scent in the area surrounding the Black Hills Children's Home during the search for Serenity Dennard.

Since the end of March, about 40 dog teams, each trained to pick up the scent of a deceased human, searched through the area surrounding the Children's Home in Rockerville.

"They can tell you it's cadaver scent, I mean these are dogs that are certified and trained from a number of different states. Dogs that we used for other recoveries in South Dakota so they're known dog teams to us and very credible," says Thom.

Knowing there is a cadaver in the area means search teams can focus their search, but the scent doesn't mean they found Serenity just yet. For the dogs the scent of any deceased human is the same so there is a possibility that the dogs aren't alerting on the missing nine-year-old.

"Obviously that would complicate it if we found a body that we didn't know was out there. That would complicate the issue, but we would still continue searching for Serenity as well," he says.

If it is Serenity, there is still the issue of finding her. A scent can be carried by the wind and other weather factors affect how well a dog team can do on any given day.

The search area, which encompasses a mile and a half radius around the Children's Home, is marked as teams continue to work.

As each section is searched routes taken by searchers are mapped out with red lines, but the rough terrain and varying weather conditions make it difficult to move faster.

"People think you should be able to just walk in and find her if she is in the woods and it's not quite that simple," says Thom. "The terrain is very rough, she's a small child, she could be in a very small area so it just takes a very systematic process and the other question is, again, if she is in the woods, how far did she go?"

Thom also says that the timeline of when Serenity was last seen is a tight window. The two people who saw her were in the parking lot of the home when she ran toward South Rockerville Road. Three to five minutes after reporting this to staff at the Children's Home they drove back down South Rockerville Road but did not see her again.