Story by Montana Jones/Originally published in the Georgina Advocate
It’s not snow blindness … you’re not seeing things … it’s just a Shadow.
Shadow has many local ice fishermen doing double-takes lately. It’s not often you see a dog whizzing by astride a snowmobile. She has a comfortable, reserved front seat with owner/ handler Brian Morrison, a conservation officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources. When they’re on the move and winds blow a little too breezy, it’s quite a sight to see the cruising canine tuck her head securely down behind the safety shield.
Shadow is Badge # 352, the Ministry’s newest and only employee in the Detector Dog Service. A graduate of the OPP Canine Academy’s intensive 14-week program, Shadow’s scent-sible approach to her work has racked up more notches than her collar will fit. The shiny black Labradors job description includes nosing out fish and game violators, but she moonlights for the police tracking everything from arsonists, car thieves to murder evidence.
To date she has been called for 103 occurrences, 22 of which were police calls to track evidence or guns. This discerning dog even “nose” the difference between different species of fish. Her ominous olfactory is highly tuned for walleye, whitefish, lake trout, deer meat, moose meat, guns and powder, humans and article searching.
Deterrent Patrols are a typical part of Shadow’s workday. She and the other human Ministry officers regularly check the catch limits of anglers, the majority of whom are more entertained than annoyed by Shadows display of superlative sniffmg. There are exceptions, however. Last week one group on Lake Simcoe insisted they hadn’t caught any fish at all, and as they talked with Ministry officers Shadow ducked into their open car and proudly emerged with a bag of whitefish she’d pulled out from it’s hiding spot under the front seat.
In Sudbury last fall, Shadow was called out to a scene where a group of hunters were illegally spotlighting moose. The offenders almost escaped into the muddy protection of a beaver swamp, but Shadow pursued and led officers to both them and a .303 rifle they’d buried under the muck and grass. They all received a night hunting conviction.
In another incident officials noted a bad cut on the hand of a suspicious hunter carrying a moose out of the woods. The next day, Shadow uncovered an illegally killed cow and her calf, and a bloody rag the hunter had used to wrap his injured hand. Such condemning courtroom evidence is rarely contested when presented by such a noseworthy opponent. Violators of the Federal Fisheries Act fetch fines up to $100,000. and/or up to a year in jail, and are prohibited from fishing anywhere in Ontario for one year.
Shadow also finds time to educate. Last year she demonstrated her abilities to 45,000 school children in an effort to teach conservation protection. Predictably, the kids are always spellbound with the loveable, talented young dog and her clever tricks. Shadow also proved to be quite an actor recently when she played in the Disney series “Wild Side”, to be aired on the Family Channel.
Morrison raised Shadow as his own family’s dog in hopes that she would be suitable for the Detector Dog Service. Dogs from 18-24 months of age are chosen after a series of aptitude tests to determine levels of submissiveness, aggression, and general disposition. She passed her tests and the course with flying colours, and now spends 24 hours a day with her two-legged partner, on and off the job.
Shadow doesn’t realize just how hard she’s working. She loves to play, and has been trained using ‘fun’ as her greatest reward. After each successful find, Shadow’s expectant eyes are riveted to Morrison and his coat pocket. When his hand ventures near it, she stops dead in her tracks, mouth frozen open in mid-pant. He reaches in … (her eyes widen) … and pulls out her favourite ball … he pitches. Shadow’s gone. A black blur and she’s off to retrieve the beloved ball. To her it’s one great big game.
Who say’s it’s a dogs life?
(Note: Officer Brian Morrison (Badge #353) & partner “Shadow” (Badge #352) Received the 1994 Amethyst Award in recognition of the Detector Dog Program which Brian developed in his capacity as the first Provincial Canine Program Coordinator, and for his successful training of Shadow, the black Labrador retriever who, in her first year, distinguished herself as a first class Fish and Game Law Enforcement Agent.)