Stories tagged murder

Sep
15
2008

Makes me wonder...: Where were you on the night of the incident?
Makes me wonder...: Where were you on the night of the incident?Courtesy kalimistuk
A French dog, nicknamed “Scooby,” may be the first animal in the history of animals to be used as a witness in a murder trial.

Scooby, whose real name (I’m guessing) is being withheld for his own safety, is believed to have been present when his 59-year old owner was hung from the ceiling of her Paris apartment.

The death was initially supposed to be a suicide, but the dead woman’s family demanded a murder investigation. During the preliminary trial, the dog was lead to the witness box to see how it reacted to a suspect. Scooby is reported to have started “barking furiously” as he neared the suspect.

The judge has yet to decide whether there’s enough evidence to launch a full murder inquiry, but was very impressed with Scooby.

In addition to the outburst at the witness, however, several crotches and one butt have been added to the list of suspects.

Soooo… How can this be a science story? Well, let us consider the olfactory prowess of your average dog, and how that could possibly be considered as evidence in a case that would put a person in jail for, no doubt, a long, long time.

I don’t know if you live in an area where skulls—preferably mammal skulls—are readily available. If you do have a local skull store or skull pit, however, do yourself a favor and grab a skull or two. If you check out the nose hole (don’t use that term on any skull-themed tests, by the way), you’ll see a bunch of thin, bony, scroll-shaped plates. Air passing through the nose hole (again…) is spread out over the surface of these plates. The chemicals that give inhaled air its odor are dissolved into the mucus produced by the spongy tissue covering the plates. The chemicals (or odors) in the mucus are then detected by little antlered nerve cells (keep that one off the test too). These nerve cells run pretty much directly to the brain, where the detected chemicals are analyzed. The brain can then decide if you’ve just smelled triple berry pie, or, say, a French murderer.

Now, while I know of several individuals I could probably identify by smell, I’m pretty certain that I couldn’t pull your average French murderer out of a lineup by odor alone. But, then, I’m no dog.

The area of tissue covered with smell receptors in a human’s nose slightly less than a couple square inches—about the size of a big postage stamp. A dog, on the other hand, has enough smell receptors to cover an area of tissue almost as big as a standard sheet of printer paper. And while all dogs are significantly better smellers than humans (that is to say, better at receiving smells, not giving off pleasant ones), certain breeds of dog far outstrip the rest. A human, for instance, has about five million smell receptors. A wiener dog has about one hundred and twenty five million smell receptors, and a German shepherd has two hundred and twenty five million. Bloodhounds have about 300 million smell receptors. What’s more, the percentage of a dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than the same area in a human’s brain. All things considered, it is thought that dogs are perhaps ten thousand times more sensitive smellers than humans. (Or, if you go by Wikipedia, a dog’s sense of smell is as much as one hundred million times more sensitive than a person’s. But I’d keep that off the test too.) Add all this to the notion that individuals may have unique individual odors, and it makes sense that a dog might be able to identify a person who had murdered their companion/owner.

Then again, I’m not sure I’d want to leave something like that up to a dog.