By Amir Lawal, USFWS
I just finished one more day that involved running, jumping, cleaning, and hitting targets. But if you think I just enlisted in the Marine Corps, you’d be wrong.
I’m one of four U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife inspectors learning how to be the Service’s first professional wildlife inspector/canine handlers. We’ve been logging hours at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Detector Dog Training Center near Atlanta, Georgia.
It’s fulfilling – but exhausting – work so far. Each day involves running and jumping with our dogs. We also have to care for them and keep them clean, of course. And we have to train them to “hit the target”, which means getting the dogs to detect the scents they’re being trained to find.
(Viper is one of four dogs being trained to sniff out smuggled wildlife. Photo: USFWS)
The four of us come from ports scattered across the country – Los Angeles, Chicago, Louisville, and Miami. The wildlife we each know most about varies as much as the location of our duty stations. But our common bond is a passion for protecting wildlife – and our new-found jobs.
With the help of very knowledgeable and experienced instructors, we’re working our way through the different wildlife scents that have been specially chosen for the detection program. After the 13-week program is completed, the dogs will be nationally certified to detect specific scents that will help us battle smugglers.
When we’re done, we’ll head home to our ports with the dogs and work alongside our fellow inspectors on the front-lines of the fight against illegal wildlife trade – a black market business worth billions worldwide.
Right now, we’re in our 5th week of training. Although I’m tired, I’m also looking forward to improving the abilities of my furry partner to sniff, smell and track targets. Each day, we all bond, grow and learn with our K9 partners.
Stay tuned for more updates on our journey.
Amir Lawal is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement