Dog hunts for poachers, endangered species in Colorado

Cash the dog is trained to sniff out the scents of 11 commonly hunted species, including moose. This skill will help find evidence and traces of illegally killed animals during poaching investigations.

LOVELAND, Colo. — Cash is a different sort of hunting dog. He’s on the hunt for poachers and endangered species, using his specially trained nose to help Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Brock McArdle.

One of two nationally certified wildlife law enforcement dogs on the beat with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Cash is part of a pilot program to show how dogs can help sniff out poachers, evidence and the territory of certain species of concern.

“He’s got a good nose,” said McArdle, who is assigned to the Red Feather District in northern Larimer County.

Dogs as wildlife officers are not as widespread as canine cops on a traditional law enforcement beat, but they are working in the natural resources capacity in more than 24 states, including Kansas, Indiana, Idaho and California. The Colorado pilot program started with one dog, Sci, in the Colorado Springs area within the last year, and Cash joined McArdle in Larimer County earlier this year.

“It’s gaining steam,” said McArdle. “The whole purpose of this pilot program is to show the benefits of these dogs.”

So far, the pilot program is completely funded by donations and grants. Bear Point Kennels donated Cash, and his $8,000 in equipment and training were covered by a series of grants from Great Outdoors Colorado, the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Big Horn Society, Colorado Bowhunters Association, Northern Colorado Pheasants Forever and Operation Game Thief.

Also, an internet donation site is set up to help pay for food and medical expenses for both Cash and Sci, anticipated to be about $1,500 per year per dog.

Cash is trained to sniff out the scents of 11 commonly hunted species including moose, deer, waterfowl and pronghorn. This skill will help McArdle and other officers find evidence and traces of illegally killed animals during poaching investigations.

Cash could help lead officers to evidence, or during checkpoints held in hunting season, he could provide officers with probable cause to search a vehicle.

This particular dog, too, is trained to smell the black-footed ferret and the boreal toad, which are species of concern in Colorado. He can help biologists in the field as they survey locations to see how these species are faring in their habitat or in areas they have been introduced.

Cash’s nose can pinpoint where biologists should look, replacing teams of people simply following a grid in hopes of spotting a species.

So this black Labrador, who is about a year old, is part criminalist, part scientist and part ambassador.

McArdle will take him into the community for presentations with children and other groups to spread education and awareness about wildlife and the importance of stewardship. Though he’s been on the job for only a short time, Cash has already made an appearance at a youth hunting event.

Cash, too, may serve as a deterrent to poachers and other criminals, McArdle added.

Cash is nationally certified, so he can work in any state, and though the team is based in Northern Colorado, McArdle anticipates helping out when needed statewide and maybe even north into Wyoming.

He hopes that as Cash and Sci (who is dually trained as a wildlife dog as well as a traditional law enforcement dog who can help with arrests) show their skills, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will grow the program.

But for now, the two will remain on the beat, helping with the protection and management of wildlife.

And the hope is that Cash, like his namesake, may leave a legacy.

“He’s the dog in black,” said McArdle. “You know, like Johnny Cash, the man in black.”

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