Like anybody else, Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice has his likes and dislikes.
Since the primary function of the Coroner’s Office is to investigate deaths that are considered unexpected, violent or suspicious, and to offer assistance to families affected by such deaths, Curtice often finds himself dealing with others’ tragedy and loss. And that sense of loss is magnified when dealing with the families of women, men and children whose disappearance is considered suspicious.
“I’m very passionate about this,” he told the Herald-Republic in December for a story marking his first year in office. “I don’t think anyone should be missing.”
Dislikes: Missing people. Likes: Helping families find closure.
Oh, and he likes dogs. Really likes dogs.
Curtice and his family share their home with six of ’em at last count — three Great Pyrenees, two Shih Tzus and the newest four-legged family member, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Justice.
Justice is no ordinary pet, however. He’s a pledge — part of Curtice’s commitment to his job.
Justice, 18 months old, is a human remains detection dog, also known as a cadaver dog. His job is to sniff out and find human teeth, blood, hair, bones and tissue. He’s the Coroner’s Office’s first cadaver dog, obtained with the help of a $14,000 grant last spring from Legends Casino Hotel’s Yakama Cares program.
Soon after taking office in December 2018, Curtice began talking about his desire for a cadaver dog that would help his team find evidence across the sprawling 4,311 square miles of Yakima County — larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
The Yakama Nation reservation takes up much of that land; of those who have disappeared from the county without a trace over the years, many are Yakama tribal members or other Native Americans. Of the many grants distributed by Yakama Cares last year — more than $1 million — the cadaver dog grant could play one of the biggest roles in the cause of justice for the many dozens of missing and murdered indigenous women, men and children.
By obtaining Justice, Curtice has added what should be a valuable tool for his office for years to come. Across the county’s
valleys, canyons, ridges and foothills, Justice will be put to work in backcountry searches or in places where evidence and remains may be scattered.
Justice will recertify once a year and trains for about 20 minutes every day. He’s a bit of a work in progress, Curtice said, but has a phenomenal gift for finding even the slightest and oldest of human remains.
Yakima County Search and Rescue’s K-9 Team also has three dogs that have been trained or are training in detecting human remains. Their usefulness and indeed their necessity is a sad reality for our county. Nonetheless, Justice is a welcome addition to the local crime-
investigation team, and we wish him and Curtice well as they partner to sniff out answers and perhaps provide a sense of closure for victims of violent crime.