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DWR K9 Team Sniffs Out Poachers

Credit DWR Officer Josh Carver / DWR

Earlier in July, DWR Conservation officers stopped 254 vehicles near Strawberry Reservoir. They issued 30 citations and seized 47 fish that were taken illegally. The operation included 14 officers and a black Lab named Cruz.

DWR K-9 Officer, Josh Carver has an 82-pound chocolate Lab that is with him 24-7. Carver’s dog, Carlo wasn’t involved in the Strawberry Reservoir fish operation, but he’s had success in other fish and wildlife recovery operations. He also can track people which can have several applications for the DWR, law enforcement and search and rescue.

So, that could be search and rescue, or that could be fugitives or that could be criminals or suspects. Or, it could be just tracking people, just to locate people out in the woods. So, if I don’t know where a hunter is and I want to check his license. Maybe, I’ll just put Carlo on a lead, and we’ll go track him down and check their license.

Carver says his dog is trained to sniff out bullet casings and other articles that could be evidence. They also do wildlife detection which is useful because he says people shoot animals without a license, sometimes leaving the carcass but taking the pelt. At the Strawberry checkpoint, the k-9 Cruz was working the area and found violations where citations were issued for a variety of things.

“Cruz, the K-9 that was working that area, he was trained in fish and in talking with some of the handlers and some of the officers there, there were multiple people coming in and out of the checkpoint there. And they were able to pull fish from lots of different people who had it illegally or possessed it illegally or took the fish in a way that they’re not supposed to.”

Carver says wildlife detection is their focus and their dogs are not trained in drug detection or biting. He says when the dogs indicate on a smell, it’s their trigger for a probable cause search.

“Our dogs are trained to sit when they find odor and to put their nose to where the odor is. And now we have the right to check their equipment used or the coolers used in that case to store fish. What they were finding was, people were saying, no we don’t have any fish and our dog was saying no they have fish in that vehicle.”

He believes proper training is essential for the program’s success. He says the K-9 team is all Labrador Retrievers right now because they are social, friendly and driven to earn their toy.

“You know in training you just make sure you’re doing it right. And, when we get certified, that dog is working for that specific odor. And so, with Cruz in particular, no other odor makes him happy. So, this odor is what he memorized, and he knows if he finds that odor, I get my toy. He’ll search hard. If that vehicle doesn’t have it, he’ll move to the next one. He wants to find that odor.”

The dogs continue training a minimum of eight hours a week through their working career. Carver says each week they work on all their odors, article searches and tracking.

Cruz and Carlo are the two experienced K-9 veterans on the unit and there are a couple other Labs coming up in training including a puppy.

“He’s 14 weeks old. A little yellow Lab. And, he’s just going to be a rock star, I’m sure. He’s going to be one of those great ones because he’s shown a lot of potential. And, that dog’s going to be located in Utah County and he would go all the way over to Park City and surrounding areas. He’d be able to cover all that. And so, we’ve got one more dog located in Roosevelt and that dog is currently in the Utah Police Academy right now, being trained with his handler."

They’re hoping to add one more dog on the K-9 team to help cover the entire state, but all the handlers and dogs are on call to go wherever they’re needed.

“Cruz was instrumental in finding fish and was able to locate their odor on one of the vehicle door handles during a stop,” Burgess said. “It’s always amazing watching him work and seeing how instrumental he is in helping us do our jobs to protect Utah’s wildlife.”

You can meet Cruz and Carlo in a slide show posted on KPCW.org

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