Department of Wildlife Resources restarts K9 program after decades-long hiatus

K9 officers graduate from an intensive 9-week training course in Patoka Lake, Ind., on May 16, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Department of Wildlife Resources is kickstarting its K9 program after decades of being without.

DWR had a K9 program until the early 1990s before it was discontinued until 2016. After a sudden cancer diagnosis, K9 Cody, DWR’s only K9 officer, died in 2018, cutting the program short. Now, two newly trained dogs are available to help the DWR fight against illegal hunting.

Conservation officers Matt Burgess and Josh Carver returned from a nine-week training in Indiana with the newest recruits. Burgess’ male black Labrador retriever named Cruz and Carver’s male chocolate Labrador named Carlo were trained to track people and wildlife, as well as conduct article searches. All four officers graduated from the program on May 16.

“Now Carlo is ready to hit the road, hit the mountains, hit the streets,” Carver said. “He’s been a real asset to us already.”

Burgess and Cruz will be taking care of the northern parts of the Utah while Carver and Carlo patrol Southern Utah.

Conservation officer Matt Burgess and K9 Cruz out for a search, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Carver and Carlo are based in Cedar City, but serve Iron, Kane, Beaver, Garfield, Piute and Washington counties as well as close to the Escalante areas. However, Carver said he and Carlo are willing to travel wherever they are needed to assist other DWR officers or other departments.

Carver said after the death of Cody, his partner, the division purchased and introduced him to Cruz. When Cruz was around four months old, a Washington County man reached out to Carver and told the officer that he might have the perfect dog for law enforcement.

“We do hear that a lot with people and really they’re not,” he said. “But in this case, Carlo ended up being really good. He tested well.”

Carver said he thought it would be foolish not to get Carlo into law enforcement, so he took Carlo to his chief who decided to hire another handler for Cruz to allow Carlo to work alongside Carver.

“He is a local dog,” Carver said. “I want people in Southern Utah to know that Carlo and I are here to serve. We appreciate that we get to serve people where we grew up.”

Carlo is an 82-pound chocolate lab with a playful side, but he is not the most social because of his upbringing. Carver said a lot of times, previous owners will turn them into the pound because they are too hyper at home, but those are the dogs that law enforcement look for.

Carlo is certified in detection of wildlife – deer, elk, fish, waterfowl, bobcats and bears – and people, as well as tracking and article searches like guns, knives, cellphones and keys. Carlo has already been on scene to look for bullet casings for a poaching case in Southern Utah.

“Whether it’s search and rescue or a bad gay, he’s going to find them,” Carver said.

Conservation officer Carver preparing Carlo for a search at an unknown date and location | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Carver said he expects Carlo to participate in more article searches in Southern Utah than anything. The most common situations, he said, might be hunters shooting from the road or a trespasser dropping or hiding a gun.

Carlo has been home for three weeks and has already been called to participate in a number of article searches. Carver said it’s the one thing he has done the most since graduation.

He said they are “looking forward to the day we save a life.”

Carver said Carlo is “an absolute stud” and his “homeboy” and partner. Carver spends more time with Carlo than his family and kids, he said.

“It’s not by choice,” he said. “But it’s because everything I do, he’s involved in. My kids don’t get to go to work with me, my wife doesn’t get to go to work with me, but my dog does.”  

Carlo loves to swim, and Carver said he tries to reinforce Carlo’s great effort with time swimming. Carver said “a lab is like an otter,” and Carlo is not different.

Despite loving to swim, Carlo’s favorite thing in the world is his toys, Carver said. Toy rewards are mostly how officers motivate Carlo to work.

“It’s all fun and games,” he said. “Carlo doesn’t know he’s a police officer. All he knows is boss man gives him a toy every time he finds something.”

Carver said Carlo is a “big boy” who “absolutely loves food,” and because of this, he is going to have to watch Carlo’s weight. Carver wants to ensure that Carlo is on the right diet to make sure he’s “never too heavy to do a job” and to keep pressure off of his hips.

That being said, Carver said Carlo deserves a reward for good finds.

“I do sneak him an ice cream cone every time he gets a good find,” he said.

Carlo and Cruz are just the beginning of the newest K9 program as another DWR conservation officer and his dog will be attending a K9 training in July and a fourth officer is set to attend in 2020.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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