Dog's nose knows meat

February 11, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

A black Labrador retriever that sniffs out bear and deer meat is the state's newest weapon against poachers in Western Maryland.

Apache, who at 49 pounds is slightly smaller than most Labradors, sniffs out concealed bear and deer meat much like a narcotics detection dog noses out cocaine and other illegal substances, said John Milbourne, a Maryland Natural Resources Police officer.

The wildlife detection dog, trained by Rudy Drexler's School for Dogs in Elkhart, Ind., will be used in poaching investigations and highway check points -- in searches for concealed meat from illegal kills -- in Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties.

"She is something that is really needed here," Mr. Milbourne said. "Through her nose she allows us to see things that we normally wouldn't see.

"If someone is hiding a bear carcass, bear paws or bear bladders, she would alert us and we would know something is there."

Hunting deer is legal in Maryland during designated seasons, but hunting bears -- which number less than 200 statewide -- is illegal. Poachers kill bears for their paws and bladders, which are considered delicacies in the Orient and fetch large sums of money.

While no statistics are available, Mr. Milbourne estimated a dozen black bears are killed illegally in Maryland each year.

"Poaching is a large problem in Western Maryland," he said. "It's something that is cultural and geographical that hasn't changed over the years. To say everybody in Garrett County is a poacher isn't true, but we seem to have more [than our share] per capita."

Apache can detect concealed bear or deer meat in fields, cars, homes, equipment barns, hay barns and outbuildings.

The canine's alert on concealed meat will give Mr. Milbourne probable cause to conduct some searches that might otherwise violate the Fourth Amendment.

The 10-month-old dog was purchased and trained with a $4,700 donation from Shikar-Safari International, a wildlife conservation group. An additional $400 donation from the Maryland Federation of Sportsmen's Club paid Mr. Milbourne's food and hotel expenses in Indiana during his training to handle the dog.

Although wildlife detection dogs are new to Maryland, meat-sniffing canines are in use in New York and Florida, said Don Hastings, editor of International Game Warden magazine, a trade publication.

"We just ran a survey to see how many people are using dogs and what they're using them for," Mr. Hastings said.

"There's a great variety of uses -- one in New Hampshire sniffs out salmon. Some are trained to find bodies drowned under water."

Apache has not been put into action yet -- illegal hunting generally occurs between July and late January. She is undergoing training daily and accompanies Mr. Milbourne on patrols.

Mr. Milbourne said he wished he had Apache a few years ago during the investigation of an illegal bear kill in Garrett County.

A bear carcass -- with its paws missing -- was found off an Interstate 68 on Negro Mountain. During a search of a suspect's house, officers were unable to find the paws and the county's state's attorney declined to press charges.

Apache would have found the paws, Mr. Milbourne said.

"[Poachers] aren't going to be able to hide anything from her," he said.

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