TWRA K-9 Unit
TWRA’s K-9 Program was launched in 2005. Wildlife officers Ken Cutsinger and Amy Snider attended the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources K-9 academy for a 10 week training course. Their labs, Macey and Jake, were almost 2 years old, and both dogs had been donated to help TWRA’s fledging K-9 program get off the ground. By 2007, the program had grown to seven teams across the state.
Each officer in the program is responsible for finding her/his own dog and training them in basic obedience. TWRA uses the retriever breed, because of its drive and friendly disposition. These dogs have a good nose, and hunters can relate to them. The dogs have to be 1-year old, but not over 2 to begin the training. The K-9 teams go through an intensive 10 week academy. They train and assess the dogs and handlers ability to work together. In this academy, dogs are trained to locate hidden wildlife, firearms, shell casings, and to man track. The training is designed to test the dog’s ability and drive, to do this demanding work in various conditions and environments. The handlers train with the dogs in order to learn how to read them. This creates a special bond between the dog and handler. No two dogs work the same, even though they go through the same training. Once the teams have finished the academy they return to their districts.
K-9 teams provide the officers in their districts another tool to be able to stop poaching. In the past nine years, K-9 teams across the state were involved in hundreds of cases. They have been used to find hidden game and guns, also to find shell casings in road hunting and spotlighting cases. They are used to find lost hunters and hunters that have tried to hide from officers. Because of their unique abilities, state and local law enforcement agencies often request them to find evidence in their cases and to assist in locating missing persons.
K-9 teams are also used in educational programs across the state. Each year, they make over 10,000 contacts with kids and adults. They are requested to do school programs, hunter safety classes, civic programs and are always a big attraction at outdoor trade shows and TWRA events. The K-9s are conditioned to be around people which allows the public a unique opportunity to interact with the dogs.
TWRA has K-9 teams scattered statewide, but they can be called to respond anywhere from the Smoky Mountains to the Mississippi River. In 2012, TWRA retired six of the K-9s and held another 10 week training academy. The success of the program was evident in the fact that five of the original handlers returned with new dogs and three more teams were added to the program. This brings the total number of TWRA’s K-9 teams to nine for the state. The new teams have already made an impact in their districts with the number of requests for both law enforcement and informational programs increasing each year. The teams may be seen across Tennessee and recognized by the words “K-9 Unit” displayed on the back doors and tailgate of the enforcement vehicles.