The state of California is doing something profound to help solve problems ranging from the spread of intrusive and damaging exotic species to illegal poaching of our precious outdoor resources. California isn’t going to the dogs. It is bringing in the dogs … to save the day. What follows is good news from Sacramento.
The state Department of Fish & Game has deployed its first K-9 unit graduates around California, and has launched a second academy. The K-9 academy trains dogs and their handlers to detect munitions, quagga/zebra mussels and other threats.
“The dogs add depth to the abilities of our game wardens to stop criminal activities by speeding up searches while also providing protection for their handlers,” Nancy Foley, DFG enforcement chief, said in a statement.
“Whether facing threats to homeland security or from the quagga and zebra mussels, these dogs will be a tremendous aid to law enforcement.”
The first six teams have been staged in law enforcement districts that cover Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Lake, Madera, Marin, Mono, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tulare and Yolo counties. When the teams are deployed they will have a specific patrol area, but are available to other areas that need support.
With the state game warden force stretched so thin, the dogs will make patrols that much more effective. In addition to standard patrol support, the dogs will be able to assist with searches for missing persons and suspects, assist in locating evidence like spent ammunition and hidden firearms, and more. All of the DFG dogs will be trained in detecting quagga mussels — a very small, invasive freshwater mussel that seriously threatens California’s economy and environment.
The training in ammunition and associated odor detection provides California with an additional level of homeland security. Other scent training may include bear, bear galls, deer, fish, elk, abalone and waterfowl, depending upon the patrol area.
“A dog’s scent ability has been estimated to be up to a million times stronger than a human’s,” said Lynette Shimek, K-9 handler and program coordinator. “When dealing with something as small as quagga mussels on a boat or waterfowl hidden in the trunk of a vehicle, a dog will let us know quickly that something is not right.”
The Department of Fish & Game plans to train up to 24 dogs. All of the animals will be trained in detection, with some dogs receiving additional training in handler protection and apprehension. The first graduates of the academy completed training Feb. 15.
The department’s K-9 Program will be largely funded through private donations. Funds will be received and administered by the nonprofit CalTIP (Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters) Inc., the department’s secret witness reporting program. Organizations, agencies and individuals can sponsor or donate funds to support a K-9 unit; all donations are tax deductible. Click here for more information.
These folks are in dire need of donations to maintain and expand this program. I encourage you to visit the Web site and make a donation. By supporting this, we can hopefully help prevent more lake closures such as our own Lake Casitas.
Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit group providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.