© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri Department Of Conservation Gets Some Four-Legged Help

The Missouri Department of Conservation's canines pose with their handlers. From L- R - Cpl. Alan Lamb and Tex (southeast region), Cpl. Don Clever and Penny (northeast region), Cpl. Caleb Pryor and Zara (northwest region), Cpl. Susan Swem and Astro, (southwest region), and Cpl. Justin Pyburn and Korra (Kansas City region)
Cpl. Vince Crawford
Missouri Department of Conservation
The Missouri Department of Conservation's new canines pose with their handlers. The dogs, which officially joined the department May 21, will help conservation officers locate people and track evidence. They can also be trained to sniff out invasive species.

Some new employees of the Missouri Department of Conservation work for kibble.

The department officially commissioned five canine officers May 21, after nine weeks of training in Indiana.

“Sometimes folks think of law enforcement dogs as apprehension dogs that chase people down. That is absolutely not what our program is about,” said Capt. Russell Duckworth of the department’s protection division.

Instead, the dogs — three labs and two German short-haired pointers — will be mostly used for tracking.

“Think of finding a lost child, or a senior adult,” Duckworth said. “Also, these are going to help us find articles that may have been discarded, maybe a firearm that was used in the commission of a wildlife crime.”

The dogs can also be trained to sniff out endangered or invasive species, like the zebra mussel. Duckworth said they’ll also make a number of educational appearances.

Duckworth said their ability to pick up scents will shorten investigations that used to take hours. For example, he said, as a young conservation officer in southeast Missouri, he would come across a truck parked far back on logging roads. That was an indication of ginseng harvesting, which is allowed on private property but not public land.

But in order to investigate, he said, he and other conservation officers would have to sit and wait for hours for people to come out of the woods.

“And oftentimes, they will leave what they have found out in the woods because they know that it’s illegal,” Duckworth said. “With a dog, you can show up to that same vehicle parked in the middle of the woods and the dog can pick up the scent of the humans that left the vehicle, and it can go to each place that that person has been, any tools, any dug ginseng that they have discovered.”

The dogs are part of the conservation department’s regular budget, though private companies such as Purina and Diamond Pet Foods helped sponsor the training and are donating dog food.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.