A trio of specially trained dogs are on the front lines in Alberta’s battle to keep invasive mussels out of the province’s water bodies.
Seuss, Hilo and Diesel and their handlers comprise the K-9 conservation unit at Alberta Environment and Parks.
They’re deployed at the international and provincial boundary points as well as at boat launches and reservoirs around the province to sniff out the dreaded quagga and zebra mussels.
Alberta is currently free of infestations of the aquatic invasive species, and the province has an ambitious program of monitoring, inspecting and education to keep it that way.
“The mussels don’t have any natural predators and they reproduce rapidly,” said Cindy Sawchuk, aquatic invasive species operations lead for Alberta Environment and Parks.
“They have these little threads that they use to attach. And so, by attaching, they could start to clog up any hard surface.”
But for the dogs, sniffing out the mussels is just fun.
“They don’t really care what we train them to find, it’s just a big game for them,” Sawchuk said.
“So we ask them to search for these mussels and then they get their reward, which is a special toy that they get to play with only when they find them.”
Sawchuk said the dogs are also great ambassadors for the program.
“They are furry and friendly and fun — they really draw in the public, because we need the public to do their part to help prevent these invasive mussels,” she said.
She said boaters can do their part by remembering to always clean, drain and dry their crafts after leaving any water body.
“It would be very detrimental to the irrigation industry if aquatic invasive species were to take hold in our reservoirs,” said George Bohner, an assistant manager of operations with the St. Mary River Irrigation District.
“”The mussels build up on top of each other and they can plug off pipelines, structures, gates. Any of our irrigation works would be hampered by an invasive species infestation.”