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Dogs of the Day

phebe and brain

K-9 Kilo lifts his head and starts running out of the search area. Warden Paul Cardoza, his handler, hopes he isn’t chasing a squirrel. The number one motto at the academy is “trust your dog.” With that in mind, Cardoza follows Kilo a good 100 yards from their search area. Kilo enters a building. Boxes, junk and old ratty rolls of insulation are piled up everywhere. Kilo uses his paw to dig into the insulation, sticks his nose deep into it, and then turns to look excitedly at his handler. He lies down and performs a perfect passive alert. Kilo’s job is done. Now it is Cardoza’s turn to find what Kilo has been so worked up about. Cardoza searches through the insulation that Kilo is alerting to, and yes, he finds the rifle they had been looking for. It was the crucial piece of evidence law enforcement had been searching for, which kept an innocent man from potentially receiving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.

This isn’t a typical day in the life of a K-9 unit for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Actually there isn’t a typical day. Every day is different for these working K-9s and their handlers.

paul and kilo

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), formerly the Department of Fish and Game, has a big job in protecting native habitats, fish, and wildlife throughout the state of California. There are over 200 wardens patrolling the state. They are armed law enforcement officers with the authority to make arrests anywhere in the state.

In 2008, the CDFW added K-9 teams to their law enforcement division.  There are now 15 K-9 units statewide, with a goal of reaching 30 teams in the near future. Considering that one dog can save over 800 personnel hours per year, it’s no wonder the CDFW wants to double their teams.

All the dogs are trained in detection. What they are trained to detect depends upon what part of the state they are in.  The dogs may be trained to detect abalone, lobsters, deer, elk, and, bear including the hide, meat, blood, and gall bladder. Some dogs are also trained to detect shark fin at airports, and two others detect marijuana.  The dogs help sniff out poachers, suspects, and lost people.

The dogs are also trained to detect hidden firearms and expended casings left over after a weapon has been fired, which is why K-9 Kilo was successful in his hunt for the hidden rifle.

Warden Brian Boyd and K-9 Phebe were at work in Shasta County when they found themselves chasing two members of a large marijuana cartel ring up and over difficult terrain. They were both slipping and sliding on boulders and making their way through thick brush. They knew at least one of the men had a gun, and they were determined to catch them. They finally did catch one of the suspects, but no gun was found.

Back down the rough terrain they went, to hand the suspect over to other members of the law enforcement team. Without the gun as evidence, he could get off on lesser charges. Back up the ravine they went to find the missing gun. He must have hidden it somewhere. K-9 Phebe started alerting on an area of huge boulders overgrown with wild grape bushes. She was frantic. Insistent. Boyd looked into the gaps and didn’t see a gun. Phebe continued to plead with him using her body language to let him know he needed to look again, look harder. And that’s when he saw him, a man wedged between the boulders holding a gun. Their second suspect! The man was wedged so tightly, he never would have gotten out of that predicament on his own. Phebe saved his life, but also ensured his prison time.

quagga mussel

All the dogs are trained to detect invasive mussels. That may not sound as exciting as searching for firearms and chasing down bad guys, but it is of utmost importance to the well being of California’s ecosystem. Quagga and zebra mussels are one of the greatest threats to California’s natural resources. These mussels can be microscopic and rarely grow to be bigger than a thumbnail. They are native to Europe and Asia, but were first discovered in the United States west of the continental divide in 2007. Although tiny in size, the mussels can wreak havoc on an ecosystem. They can be transferred from waterway to waterway by attaching themselves to boats. These mussels multiply rapidly and disrupt the whole food chain and natural habitat. They feed on plankton and algae, which depletes the food sources of small creatures. This then leads to die-off of small fish, eventually leading to die-off of the larger fish that have also lost their food source.

The mussels can also get into pipelines and impact water for agricultural use and drinking water supplies


The CDFW K-9s were the first canines in the world to be trained to detect invasive mussels. The K-9s inspect boats and trailers, and when they detect invasive mussels, the vehicle is cleaned and quarantined for 30 days and then inspected again before being allowed back in the water.

Last year the CDFW K-9 Teams did 157 demonstrations educating over 28,796 people about their work. In addition, they made 14 apprehensions and 177 physical arrests and performed 1004 evidence searches in areas, buildings, and vehicles. They also inspected 1,576 boats and trailers and  found 84 missing people, including suspects, poachers, and lost citizens.

high 5

Just when I thought I’d heard of all the ways dogs are helping people, I find something I hadn’t known about. We are lucky to have these dedicated teams protecting our valuable natural resources.





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