Enforcement adds two K9s to detect aquatic invasives

By Brian Peterson
Outdoor News Web Editor

Prior Lake, Minn. — At first, it appeared Shelby might be a bit off course.

The zebra mussel-sniffing K9 for the Minnesota DNR jumped with excitement when she got behind the motor of a trailered boat being used for this K9 mussel-finding demonstration.

And that’s a good thing. Such a change in behavior lets her handler, Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer Brent Grewe, know that something might be up.

Just moments earlier, Grewe had stashed a small metal box containing several zebra mussels toward the middle of the boat, under and behind the wheel of the boat trailer. Still, after a trip around the boat and trailer, Shelby again got especially excited at the rear of the boat.

Ah, the wind.

There was just enough breeze May 4 at the boat access on Prior Lake in the Twin Cities to waft the scent of the mussels behind the boat and trailer. Shelby was all over it, and before long, the German short-haired pointer had worked her way up to the box of mussels, immediately sitting to indicate the find, tail wagging.

“She used the wind to her advantage,” Grewe said of the effort, which still took less than a minute. And even if she hadn’t found the box, her behavior would have been enough for the CO to take it from there.

“We run the dog around the boat and see if there’s a change in their behavior, and if there is, we take a closer look,” Grewe said.

“It’s just another tool,” the CO said of the addition of K9s in the effort to detect zebra mussels on boats, motors, and trailers. “It helps a lot with inspections. It’s amazing how fast they typically find it. They (zebra mussels) can be small and difficult to see. Dogs are a great supplement.”

Shelby and another dog just completed training and were certified in zebra mussel detection on April 30, Grewe said – just in time for the Minnesota fishing opener May 13. They join two veteran dogs that, according to Grewe, have been on the zebra mussel-detection force for about five years.

“There will still be inspectors at boat launches,” Grewe said. “And we may use her (Shelby) on road checks as well.”

According to Grewe, the hope is that the DNR will continue to grow the program “as time and money allow.” He and others on hand from the DNR last week also stressed that the main responsibility in the battle against zebra mussels and aquatic invasive species in Minnesota still lies with boaters and anglers.

“It (the K9 program) is a great tool to have, but we still need the public’s help – that they’re making sure their equipment is clean,” said Keegan Lund, invasive species specialist with the DNR.

While many might equate German shepherds with K9s, when it comes to, say, zebra mussel detection, German shorthairs are ideal.

“The dog has to have a very strong drive for reward,” said Grewe, who covers the Lake Minnetonka area.

And Shelby’s reward? Nothing more than a run-of-the-mill doggy toy – a small ball attached to a short tugging strap. But she couldn’t get enough of it during the demonstration, carrying it in her mouth as she trotted around the boat after finding the mussels and getting her prize.

“When she finds zebra mussels, she gets rewarded with the ball,” Grewe said of Shelby, who along with being his partner on zebra mussels detail, doubles as the Grewe family dog.

“It’s a fun game for her,” he said.

Shelby joins another new K9 within the department – Storm, another German shorthair, handled by CO Hannah Mishler, of Baudette. Two other mussel-sniffing K9s have been on the force for about five years – Julie Siems’ Brady, in southeastern Minnesota, and Larry Hanson’s Reggie in the southwest. Both Siems and Hanson are water resource enforcement officers.

Officials say it cost about $13,000 to buy and train the two new K9s, though a federal grant covered that cost.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.15

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