Cadaver dog dies after brief but successful career

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Joe Angotti always knew when Saber, the Doberman pinscher who worked for four years as a cadaver dog for the Allegheny County coroner's office, had found something.

He'd make a low growl, then give a bark, and Mr. Angotti, a deputy coroner, would alert the authorities to where they should search.

Over Saber's short career, that distinctive sound helped investigators discover bodies submerged in rivers and trapped in charred houses.

"They were surprised to see how accurate a dog can be," Mr. Angotti said.

Saber, the first and only cadaver dog for the Allegheny County coroner's office, died Sunday at age 10 in a Monroeville veterinarian's office, where he was put to sleep due to declining health.

With him at the end was Mr. Angotti, the man who had found him, named him, trained him and partnered with him on more than 70 cases.

Mr. Angotti had worked with police canine units as an officer with the Wilmerding and East McKeesport police departments, and when he became a deputy coroner, he suggested to Cyril Wecht, the Allegheny County coroner at the time, that the office hire a cadaver dog, which could aid in finding decomposing human remains. Dr. Wecht gave him the go-ahead, and in 2002 Mr. Angotti headed to Clymer, Indiana County, to see a breeder with Doberman puppies.

Out of a litter of five 4-month-old puppies, the one that ran up to Mr. Angotti was the dog that stood out.

"He just seemed like he had a lot of energy in him, and that's something that would need to be a requirement, to get up and go," he said.

And after the training period -- about eight months of obedience classes and cadaver training in California -- there was plenty of get up and go.

Saber and Mr. Angotti responded to calls throughout Western Pennsylvania from local, state and county police and fire departments, as well as the FBI.

It was morbid work, but Saber loved it.

"It's all a game to him," Mr. Angotti said. "He doesn't realize what the end result is. All he knows is that when he finds his end result, he gets highly praised and rewarded."

But at the end of 2007, after management at the coroner's office changed, the cadaver dog program ended, and Saber spent his retirement at Mr. Angotti's home.

As Mr. Angotti got ready for work each day, "It seemed like he was always ready for the next call," he said.

Mr. Angotti, who left the coroner's office a year after Saber and now runs his own construction company, buried Saber at his home in Wilkins.

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