Law enforcement goes to the dogs on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Refuge Notebook

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2006


  Photo courtesy Kenai National Wi

Photo courtesy Kenai National Wi

After two years of planning, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge entered a new era of law enforcement by purchasing and training a wildlife canine unit to be stationed in Soldotna, but be available for details throughout the state.

In October of 2004, I was detailed to Northern California where I met my new partner, Sampson. Sampson is a 2-year-old black Lab that had originally been selected to become a Canine Companion for those folks who are wheelchair-bound.

However, during the training, it was discovered that Sampson was too energetic to properly perform his duties. In other words, he could not control his excitement to do the job at hand.

This behavior may have prevented Sampson from becoming a Canine Companion, but it is exactly the type of behavior that is desired in a police canine. Training began with a simple game of fetch with tennis balls. Now, he is trained to perform evidence recovery, wildlife detection and tracking.

When Sampson switches gears between tasks he wears a different collar and I use different commands. All tasks except tracking are done off-leash with verbal commands keeping him focused on the area of the search.

To become certified in evidence recovery, Sampson must be able to locate three items in a 100-foot square covered with vegetation no less than 10 inches high, in less than five minutes. The hidden items can be anything with human scent such as credit cards, knives, guns, tools, saws, wallets, etc.

Once locating the item, Sampson is trained to lie with the item between his front paws. If the vegetation is especially thick Sampson is given a command to root out the item with his nose.

Certification in wildlife detection is similar to that of a narcotics canine. Prior to receiving our certification we must search and successfully find two separate wildlife samples (meat cooked or uncooked, hair, bloody clothes or gloves) in four different environments.

Unlike evidence recovery, Sampson’s indication for wildlife is to sit at the point the scent is the strongest and then it is up to me to locate the exact location of the sample.

Building searches are done by placing wildlife samples in a residence. The samples can be hidden behind stoves, in washers or dryers, furnace vents, shelves, drain pipes, dressers — in short, wherever the certifying trainer wants to hide them.

Prior to starting the search I put a green nylon collar on Sampson, give the search command and enter the residence where we search room by room until all articles are located and identified. There is no time limit on wildlife searches.

Vehicle searches are very similar to building searches except we use a row of at least seven cars and only two of them will have one sample hidden. It is Sampson’s job to not only locate the car but pinpoint the location of the sample, whether it’s on the frame by the muffler or in a lunch box behind the driver’s seat.

Area searches are similar to evidence recovery. However, samples can be up in trees or buried under stumps, leaves, rocks, etc. There can be a time limit on this exercise depending on the size of the area.

During the last certification that we completed the trainer set two samples out in an area approximately 200-yards square and buried one of the samples in approximately 3 inches of dirt.

The final wildlife search that we received certification in is luggage searches. A cardboard box is used to simulate luggage and the test consists of at five boxes, with only one of the boxes containing a sample.

Additionally, during wild-life searches, the trainer can place domestic meat samples such as chicken, pork, or beef and Sampson is supposed to pass over the items and indicate solely on wildlife items.

Currently we are certified for detecting moose, brown and black bear, caribou, dall sheep, mountain goat, and deer. I plan to add polar bear and musk ox to our plate this winter.

Probably the toughest certification that we receive is tracking or trailing of subjects who are either lost in the woods or, for whatever reason, have decided to elude the police by running.

Trailing certification is similar but is divided into three separate classifications. The novice trailer will trail a 10-minute old trail for one-half mile over a vegetative surface with no other human trails present.

The expert will use a trail one hour old covering one mile, start and end on vegetation but have 500 feet of the trail be on pavement.

Finally, the distinguished expert will start on a trail one hour old, cover 1 1/2 miles, run at least 500 feet on pavement, cross a stream, and have two fresh human trails crossing the trail. A subject will remain at the end of all the trails.

His reward for all this work and training: a tennis ball.

As you can see, having a canine partner is a lot of work and training but there is no better experience when Sampson finds the guy who ran or locates a crucial piece of evidence.

Rob Barto is a law enforcement officer on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

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Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on our Web site at http://kenai. You can check on new bird arrivals or report your bird sighting on the Refuge Birding Hotline at (907) 262-2300.

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