June 3, 2009
California K-9 Officer Rusty
When Rusty isn't playing ball, he's nosing around for illegally killed wildlife for the California Dept. of Fish and Game in the Cal-TIP (California Turn In Poachers) program.
Our department's master trainer, Chip Johnson, routinely looks for police service detection dog candidates at shelters. He finds it very rewarding to give these dogs a second chance, and knows the lifelong bond that develops between an officer and a police K-9.
While at the Marin Humane Society one day, he passed Rusty's kennel without paying much attention to him. His feisty five-year-old, Oakley, was helping look for dogs that day and firmly told her father to "test this one!"
When Chip tested Rusty, he knew Oakley had picked a winner.
"Please Throw Something Now"
Rusty came to me with the disclaimer "here is the wild man." The K-9 training coordinator warned me that he was not a very handsome dog, but he had the intensity to more than make up for his looks.
Rusty had a one track mind, with "play ball, play ball, play ball" on his mind 24 hours a day. If he could speak English, he would probably say, "Please throw something now, or I will implode". The challenge was to channel that drive to a positive outcome.
Rusty did not bond with me right away—he would go to anyone who had a ball or was doing something more exciting than I was. Rusty and I were both as green as could be, but slowly Rusty began to respect me as his handler.
We are still constantly working to become a better team.
Part Dog, Part Mountain Goat?
Rusty does his job as a law enforcement detection K-9 wholeheartedly. He enthusiastically jumps in my truck every day to patrol the Sierras for poachers.
He will tenaciously search in terrain suited only for mountain goats. One day we searched for more than 12 hours for poached deer carcasses or antlers. At the end of this exhausting day, Rusty was only disappointed that his work was over.
A Proven Asset
Rusty later helped in finding the concealed carcasses or antlers of three trophy mule deer poached in the Eastern Sierras.
Rusty also assisted in finding the carcass of a record-book black bear who was illegally killed and left to rot in the back country.
I often wonder what would have become of Rusty if our trainer's little girl had not seen his potential as a detection dog and asked her daddy to take him from the shelter. Rusty has proven himself—over and over—as an asset to wildlife law enforcement and thus to this state.
Warden Erick Elliott
California Department of Fish and Game
Alpine, Amador and El Dorado Counties