Sgt. Cynthia Mann can’t stop gushing about her new partner.
He loves to work, has a goofball personality and a knack for detecting unusual smells like bear gall bladders, firearms, shell casings, zebra and quagga mussels dead or alive.
His name is K9 Major — the B.C. Conservation Officer Service’s (COS) second detection dog that’s been on the job since early December, teaching Mann new things nearly every day.
“They are just incredible animals and his drive blows me away. When I put on his harness and show him his toy, that dog switches everything off and he’s zoned into work,” said Mann, who’s based in Nelson and has had the 15-month-old German shepherd since the end of October.
“I’ve had dogs my whole life so this was a great opportunity. I jumped at the chance to become a handler.”
Like the other COS detection dog Kilo, based in Kelowna with Sgt. Josh Lockwood, Major will primarily be on the road from late March to October, searching for invasive mussels on boats travelling through and into B.C. But he can also assist officers with a variety of other investigations by finding shell casings, poached animals or illegal firearms hidden inside vehicles during hunting season.
To become a validated detection team, the pair spent five weeks going through intense daily training sessions. They continue to train a couple times a week, searching for hidden objects placed around the office, open spaces or the warehouse where boats, sleds and trailers are stored. Mann watches Major’s every move, looking for an indication he’s found an odour. When he does find what he’s looking for, Major is rewarded with his toy, causing a frenzy of excitement.
“He just goes nuts when he makes a find,” said Mann, who’s with Major 24/7, but keeps him in a crate at night. “He’s not my pet and that’s something as a handler you have to really keep in mind. We have a great time together and he gets a lot of affection, but he is a working dog.”
The B.C. COS leads enforcement operations for the Invasive Mussel Defence Program, which aims to prevent zebra and quagga mussels from entering the province. Beginning in early April, Major and Kilo will be at 12 watercraft inspection stations set up at key points throughout the province. In his first year, Kilo conducted more than 900 inspections and found invasive mussels on two vessels, proving a need for a second detection dog.
“There are numerous inspection stations spread throughout the province that officers are responsible for, so it’s important to have a canine readily available. One dog would be well over capacity,” said Doug Forsdick, chief conservation officer. “These dogs are a valuable tool for detecting invasive mussels and other illegal wildlife items that are being transported throughout B.C.”
Suspected invasive mussels should be disclosed to the report all poachers and polluters (RAPP) line at 1 877 952-7277.