Dog sniffs out fish and game violators

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

SEWARD (AP) -- Fish and wildlife poachers beware. There's a new breed of law enforcement on the Kenai Peninsula -- a chocolate-colored Chesapeake Bay retriever to be exact.

Flash, short for his registered name of Happy Feet Wing Flash, is the new partner and companion of Jeff Bryden, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer.

And he's the only wildlife detection dog in the state, Bryden said.

Instead of sniffing out narcotics, Flash is learning to detect the difference between a rainbow trout and a salmon or between goat meat and beef.

That's a valuable tool for Bryden, whose job it is to make sure people are harvesting the right fish and game and in the correct season.

The 2-year-old retriever proved his worth recently when his nose led him to a stashed catch of rainbow trout along Ptarmigan Creek. Rainbows from that stream are only to be caught and released.

Bryden suspected the uninformed fishermen's activities were illegal when they cautioned the officer against Flash accidentally eating their catch, as Bryden and the dog walked along the shore.

Flash, who has learned to overcome his instinct to retrieve while working, signaled his owner to the illegal catch by barking and scratching. The fishermen were cited and their fish confiscated, Bryden said.

It's important that Flash leaves his find undisturbed for evidence-gathering, which is a difficult task for a retriever, Bryden said.

''Ideally I get a scratch and a bark,'' he said. ''There's something in the dog's characteristics you learn from working with him day in and day out that tells you there's something over there and then I work him a little more.''

Flash also is indispensable for tracking wanton waste cases, even to the point of finding spent shell casings, which can help lead to hunters who take animals for trophy and who do not utilize all the meat.

Bryden uses specific commands to let Flash know what it is the two are searching for.

''If he comes to a salmon fillet, he should pass over it. But if it's a rainbow fillet, he should mark it,'' Bryden said.

Bryden has been working with Flash about two months within the Seward Ranger District. The retriever was being trained for field trial competition in California when Flash was recommended to Bryden as possibly meeting the criteria of a wildlife detection dog.

The retriever was selected for his ability to handle well around people and for his woolly undercoat that permits him to work comfortably in wet, cold weather common to the peninsula, Bryden said.

But not everyone was thrilled with Flash's arrival.

Flash spends his off-time at Bryden's home in Moose Pass. That doesn't sit well with Bryden's 9-year-old black Labrador, Agent, who was the alpha male of the household until Flash showed up.

''He's a little jealous,'' Bryden said. ''We have discussions on it on a regular basis. Each have their own dish and stay in different parts of the house.''

It's particularly tough for Agent to watch Flash load up in Bryden's truck each morning to go to work while he stays behind.

Agent has congestive heart failure, so Bryden can't work him like he used to, he said. So when Bryden comes home after working with Flash all day, it's Agent's turn for some quality time.

This winter, Flash will be riding the snowmachine with Bryden, working to improve the odds of locating those who choose to steal wildlife resources.

As for now, both Flash and Bryden continue to learn from one another.

''I knew going into this that I would need to devote a lot of time and energy,'' Bryden said of his work with Flash. ''I want to make sure this program succeeds because it's got my name on it. And if that means putting in extra hours, that's what I'm going to do.''


(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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