Aquatic invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, are serious threats to Alberta’s waterways. The province is so committed to keeping Alberta mussel-free that mussel-sniffing dogs are now a permanent addition to the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program.
Meet the Team
Hilo’s handler, Cindy Sawchuk, is the leader of the pack, responsible for the operations of both the inspection stations and the canine program, and as such travels to all the inspection stations in the province. This means Hilo gets to check out lots of Alberta locales – and hangs out at a lot of hotel pools!
Not only does Hilo love to find mussels on boats…he also has a habit of eating his finds, making him – what Cindy teasingly calls – “a detection/decontamination dual purpose dog.”
At home, Hilo works hard to get along with Cindy’s 13-year-old Samoyed, Névé, and gets into regular puppy mischief by chewing on patio furniture and anything Victoria Secret.
Despite his young age, he has already changed careers – he was donated to the Government of Alberta by Guide Dogs for the Blind after he flunked out of guide dog school. His focus and high energy and drive make him an excellent inspector.
Diesel is a one-and-a-half-year-old chocolate lab-cross. He and his handler, Heather McCubbin, split their time between the Dunmore and Burmis inspection stations. Diesel and Heather are a dynamic duo, working five days a week – no matter the temperature or weather conditions!
Size can matter in the invasive species detection game – Diesel is small and sometimes has to jump high to reach some areas of the watercraft he is inspecting.
You may be asking, “What is Diesel’s motivation?” The answer is squeaky tennis balls. Rewarding this pooch with a toy for a job well done keeps his nose on full alert!
In his off hours, Diesel splits his time between walking along the Crowsnest River, playing Frisbee in the park and trying to win the heart of Bobbi girl, Heather’s pet cat.
Suess’ handler, Hannah Mckenzie, couldn’t pass up the chance to work with a dog that, “does everything at 120% and has a contagious enthusiasm for life.”
Hannah has a full house with three other dogs – Sadie, Tammi and Spike – when they initially met Seuss there was a lot of sniffing, posturing and barking. Suess brought a whole new energy to Hannah’s house and now they are just one big happy crew!
Suess is young and can get easily distracted but he and Hannah practice searching with distractions to help with his focus. Not afraid of change and eager to put all his training into practice, nothing gets this dog down!
Dogs and trainers met and were paired at the Working Dogs for Conservation training academy led by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in California. All of these dogs are born Californians and new to Canada – that means their first winter is sure to be a treat!
These dogs and their handlers are working hard to ensure Alberta is protected from aquatic invasive species. While all are still relatively young and new in the mussel sniffing game – they are shining talents and are great additions to the Government of Alberta workforce.
So keep your eyes out for these K-9s suited up with their vests and protective booties, and if you are hauling a watercraft, stop by and check out their skills for yourself.