The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division’s K9 Unit now has six dog/handler teams spread across the state, following the recent graduation of two teams from a 17-week K9 school. Lt. Phil Mohs and CO Scott Staples – and their dogs Mack and Fennec, respectively – graduated May 27 and began working in the field immediately thereafter.
The multi-purpose dogs in the K9 Unit assist in search-and-rescue missions, can sniff out fish and game, and have the ability to locate firearms and spent ammunition. Three of the dogs, including Mack, also are trained to smell zebra mussels. Both Mohs and Staples have previous experience as K9 handlers. Mohs, who coordinates the K9 Unit, is a former dog handler in the Army. Staples and his former K9 partner Schody, who retired earlier this year, worked together for 10 years.
Members of the K9 Unit routinely assist DNR conservation officers and other partner law enforcement agencies in Minnesota. There is at least one K9 team in each of the DNR’s four administrative regions.
“The dogs have innate abilities – an extremely powerful sense of smell, for example – but it’s really the dedication of their handlers and the intense, ongoing training that make them critical tools for conservation law enforcement,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “Our K9 teams have been instrumental in solving poaching cases, have helped to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species, and have saved the lives of people who’ve been lost in the wilderness.”
The Enforcement Division K9 Unit includes Mohs and Mack (stationed in the metro area); Staples and Fennec (stationed in Carlton); CO Hannah Mishler and K9 Storm (stationed in Bemidji); CO Luke Gutzwiller and K9 Earl (stationed in Redwood Falls); Water Resources Enforcement Officer Julie Siems and K9 Brady (stationed in southeastern Minnesota); and CO Mike Fairbanks and K9 Si (stationed in Deer River).
Members of the unit train together on a regular basis, and each officer and their dog are required to train at least 16 hours a month. In addition, the dogs and their handlers must certify annually in patrol, evidence and detection tests.