The California Department of Fish and Game has added a new warden to the Tahoe Basin crew whose agility, keen sense of smell and specialty training will strengthen efforts to protect Tahoe’s natural resources.
Nigel ” an 80-pound black Labrador retriever ” recently graduated from the Fish and Game’s canine academy where he received training in detection for Quagga mussels, abalone and ammunition, said handler and Tahoe-based warden Robert Pelzman.
“Having the dog will greatly increase the number of violations we detect, and also evidence collection because we’ll be able to detect evidence faster,” Pelzman said.
During a recent surveillance at the agricultural inspection station at Interstate 80 in Truckee, the 18-month-old canine was able to sniff out Quagga mussels on a boat bound for Lake Tahoe in a matter of minutes, Pelzman said.
“Dogs can key in on evidence really fast as opposed to an officer searching for hours. That’s the most beneficial part,” said Jerry Karnow, a Nevada County warden. “Knowing that we have the ability to find evidence faster could have some impact on certain people that are predisposed to violate the law.”
Through catching the invasive species, Nigel ” one of the only dogs in the world trained to detect Quagga mussels ” helped reduce the threat to Lake Tahoe’s food web, water clarity, native species and the economy, Pelzman said.
By supplementing the Tahoe arm of Fish and Game with the canine, the department is hoping to boost the notoriously short-staffed sector.
“The dogs add depth to the abilities of our game wardens to stop criminal activities by speeding up searches while also providing protection for their handlers,” said Nancy Foley, enforcement chief for the agency. “These dogs will be a tremendous aid to law enforcement.”
Nigel ” who was originally Pelzman’s pet before attending the Fish and Game canine academy ” is not trained in handler protection, but Pelzman said having “man’s best friend” at his side will be a plus.
“We work alone 95 percent of the time, so having the company will be nice,” he said.
Also by having Nigel along, Pelzman said it serves as automatic publicity for the department.
“When you have a dog, people are more likely to come up and talk to you. I’ve had a lot of people asking questions and I think as the word gets out to the people that are likely to poach, this could be a good deterrent,” he said.
Nigel will continue his training with Pelzman on a daily basis, and the pair will meet with the department’s master trainer once a month to test their teamwork.
Eventually Nigel’s instruction will enable him to track down bear gall bladders, deer parts, and other evidence of illegal activities that threaten Truckee and Tahoe wildlife.
“This is so beneficial because it improves our public relations, increases the ability to detect violations, and of course it gives me the companionship when he is on patrol with me,” Pelzman said.