Maddie: The Dogs and the (cuddle) Cat… Questions of Smell…
by: Paulo Sargento*
On the 6th of September, weekly Expresso published an exclusive interview with the McCann couple, with headlines that claimed, in direct speech, through Kate’s voice: “Gonçalo Amaral is a disgrace!” Twenty four hours earlier, the British daily The Sun presented an excerpt of the videos with the famous dogs (trained to react in the presence of human blood and cadaver odour, we recall) reacting in a particular manner under certain circumstances, namely in locations where the McCanns were, or to objects that had been in contact with the family (for example, the famous pink cuddle cat). These videos made the rounds in all tv stations and generated some upset.
Let’s ask: how are both situations related? Well, the time proximity may lead to suppose that, like we have stated in earlier occasions, these are situations that can be compared with guerrilla fights. I open a parenthesis to affirm that I am certain of the tolerance and good sense that are recognized in Dr Gonçalo Amaral, which continue to give him the strength and the wisdom to resist, along with his family, to this guerilla that will only intensify the confusion that is installed already.
What does this mean? It was to be presumed that after the process was made public there would be a tendency from the media to try to value some indicia that sustain the homicide and cadaver concealment theory, and that the response to that tendency would be translated into attacks on the Polícia Judiciária’s technical competence, and especially the devaluation of indicia without forensic corroboration.
Within this perspective, it did not surprise me that the reports were published almost simultaneously and that for the McCann couple, the criteria to interpret and explain the behaviour of the dogs were exclusively measured by these animals’ incompetence, supposedly proved by one single US study. Of course it is an argument, but once again, the argument of authority has prevailed over the authority of the argument. Is one single US study enough to devalue what the images have shown? Probably, the forensic artist who drew the photofits was also part of the team… (forgive me the irony)
It could also be confirmed, just like I had insisted, despite the legitimate and honest explanations from my dear friend Dr Rogério Alves during a debate on SIC Notícias in late July, that the couple had refused to “return to Portugal for the reconstitution” (in Expresso, Sept 9, 2008, page 25).
More recently, on the 14th of September, British tabloid “News of the World” announces, on the front page, the publication of “Kate’s Diary, in her own words” and advances an exclusive that will present, “for the first time, the devastating TRUTH that destroys the Portuguese police’s lies”. Competing with the usual appealing images of Britney Spears, Rachel Stevens and Danii Minogue, the front page presents a photo of Kate McCann with a sad and worried expression, which supposedly would anticipate the details of her agony that the diary would expose.
In reality, across four pages of the tabloid, with some photographs that illustrated the strong emotions, Kate’s diary was published and commented under the perspective of a mother in understandable despair. The comments followed the logics of the abduction theory, and in consequence carried out a violent attack on the Portuguese Polícia Judiciária, which is accused, among other things, of cruelty.
But why am I telling you this? Because following the supposedly incompetent olfactory work done by the dogs, on the 12th of July 2007, Kate registers the following in her diary: “Today I washed the Cuddle Cat. I was hoping not to have to do it until Madeleine returns, but it was now quite dirty and smelly, unfortunately without the smell of Madeleine on it” (News of the World, Sept 14, 2008, page 6).
This passage is admirable, when compared to the notion that the dogs’ role had to be diminished in the process!!!
The figure of cuddle cat has always claimed my attention in the Maddie case. Right at the beginning, I remembered a famous British paediatrician, Donald Winnicott, who attributed particular importance to toys (or other objects) that gain a special value for children in very precocious phases of their lives. These objects, which the paediatrician called transitional, are invested with particular passion by the children, or even with addiction, for possessing symbolic characteristics of safety, comfort, care and other qualities that emanate from the mother figure. It is almost always the mother who offers, or promotes, this relationship of passion with the object. Therefore, when she is absent or when the children, for example, go to bed or to nursery school, they absolutely need to enjoy the company of these objects. That is the only way that they can endure those moments. We all remember when our children could only sleep if they were hugging their soft toy.
But that object gradually loses that symbolic dimension, as new relational meanings emerge. Nevertheless, while the passion and the addiction over that object last, all its qualities should be maintained. One of them, very important: the scent. Who has never witnessed a child’s tantrum because she does not want her soft toy to be washed, even preferring it to remain dirty and smelly?
That’s right. I have never managed to understand who the pink cuddle cat belonged to…
But I’m certain of one thing: it’s a lot more important than it seems.
Even after being washed, when Kate could not feel Maddie’s scent anymore, and placed, untouched, in the little bed where it slept, the dogs felt a presence.
I finish for the day with a sentence by Professor José Pinto da Costa (whom I was honoured to be a student of) that was spoken during the aforementioned debate: “I see that I still have a lot to learn about those sniffer dogs’ biology”.
source: Câmara de Comuns, September 20, 2008
* criminal psychologist, university professor and author