A nose for the law

Dog-handler team sniffing out CPW violations

Area 14 District Wildlife Manager Phillip Gurule and his dog Sci, a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, are an efficient team working together. Sci can use his nose not only to de-escalate a problem with a hunter, but help with poaching investigations.

Many things have changed in the Colorado’s great outdoors over the years. Some things have stayed the same.

“Twenty years ago, the agency had 135 wildlife officers,” Area 14 District Wildlife Manager Philip Gurule said. “Today we have 135 wildlife officers, but what has Colorado’s population done in that time?”

It’s essentially increased by 2 million people and many of those people participate in outdoor recreation, including hunting — sometimes illegally.

“Having a trained dog is like growing our officer core without adding significant costs,” said Gurule, who lobbied Colorado Parks and Wildlife for support and found outside donation funding to allow him to begin a pilot program of using a dual-purpose dog for officer protection and wildlife detection.

Sci is a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, trained in handler protection and suspect apprehension as well as odor detection to sniff out wild game.

Sci is named for Safari Club International, the Colorado Chapter of which donated the money to buy and train him for his work alongside Gurule.

“We recognize the need for a service animal, and the benefits that they provide,” said Brett Axton, president of the Colorado Chapter of SCI. “Now our friend and partner, Philip Gurule, can be more effective as a Parks and Wildlife officer.”  

During hunting seasons — essentially August through January — wildlife officers put in long hours making hunter contacts, checking licenses, writing citations, working poaching cases and making arrests.

During the 2015 big-game hunting season, Gurule brought Sci to the large-scale Interstate 70 hunter inspection area to showcase his skill. In many cases, hunters or poachers try to hide an illegal take, inspections could take more than 30 minutes.

With Sci, and his nose trained to sniff for wild game, those searches lasted two minutes.

Gurule also credits the presence of Sci with de-escalating would-be problem hunter contacts.

“I made contact with a guy who was trespassing on private property. He was pretty irate and he was screaming at me and followed me to my truck as I went to check his hunting license,” Gurule said. ” As soon as Sci saw him he started barking like crazy, which he does with anyone who comes near the truck. The man seemed surprised and asked ‘You got a dog in there?’ And then, while he still wasn’t the most compliant, you could tell he was much more calm.”

Sci has also used his nose to help with poaching investigations, finding shell casings in tall grass in a matter of minutes; a feat that would have taken two officers an entire day or two to find, if they ever could.

As Sci continues to showcase how impactful and efficient a wildlife officer can be with a dog, Gurule hopes he can help to grow the K9 program within the agency.

Accomplishing that vision looks promising, and Gurule is helping to train a one-year-old black lab, named Cache, to sniff out wild game, and to be a partner for Wildlife Officer Brock McArdle in the northeast region of the state.

Biologists do a lot of Boreal Toad research in McArdle’s region.

In past conservation efforts, biologists and research assistants have spent up to three weeks in the field searching for these rare toads to study. With a dog trained to sniff them out, the task could take only a matter of days.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help cover the yearly cost of Sci and Cashe’s vet bills, food, boarding and ancillary costs. It’s estimated that over a 10-year working period, a dog will cost about $20,000.

To contribute to growing the K9 program, go to https://www.gofundme.com/cpw-k9.


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