Meet the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ (UDWR) new secret weapons Cruz and Carlo. The Labrador retrievers recently wrapped up a 9-week training course in Patoka Lake, Indiana, with UDWR conservation officers Matt Burgess (partnered with Cruz) and Josh Carver (partnered with Carlo) where they learned how to “track people and wildlife” and search for specific items like “guns, shotgun shells, cellphones, clothing and keys,” according to the agency.
“DWR's dogs are a little different than the traditional police dog,” said UDWR K9 coordinator Sgt. Chad Bettridge. “Our dogs are trained, similar to traditional police dogs, to locate and then indicate on specific items. Instead of the typical training to locate drug-related items, our dogs have been trained to find wildlife and wildlife-related items. Our K9s are also tracking dogs and are able to follow the track of wildlife violators, missing children or lost hikers. Both of our K9s successfully completed numerous multi-mile tracks during their training.”
UDWR ran a K9 program in the early 1990s, but it was discontinued in 2016. Carver previously completed the training program, but lost his dog, Cody, to cancer. Cruz was Carver’s second dog and Carlo soon followed.
“The owner was looking to place him in a law enforcement home,” said Carver. “Carlo was high energy and was too much for his current owners to handle, and he was basically in a kennel, day and night. I decided to test Carlo, in hopes of finding him a home. I fell in love with this guy. Something about him just needing a second chance made him more appealing.”
Carlo now helps Carver patrol southern Utah while Cruz helps Burgess monitor northern Utah.
“The hardest part of the training was trying to keep up with Cruz while tracking,” said Burgess. “He is young and I am old. He did get me into better shape than I have been in for a long time. It is also difficult to try and learn to think like a dog does, with no verbal communication and no answers to why he does certain things sometimes. But I am looking forward to Cruz having success and building him into an effective dog with a very important role in wildlife law enforcement.”
According to UDWR, the primary purpose of the dogs will be “to solve wildlife-related crimes, like trespassing and poaching cases,” but they’ll also be used for routine law enforcement, too. The dogs will also visit schools and community foundations as an outreach tool.
“Our officers take the dogs to school programs and other community functions, and people usually love to be around Labs because of their friendly nature,” said Bettridge. “DWR officers work hard to ensure that the people of Utah have an enjoyable and safe experience while hunting, fishing or experiencing the outdoors. Adding these canines to their efforts will increase the effectiveness of our officers and provide additional support for the agencies we work alongside.”