SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources' newest officers have some bark.
On Monday, the agency debuted Cruz, a 15-month-old black Labrador retriever, and Carlo, a chocolate Labrador, as its newest conservation K-9 officers — after their previous K-9 officer, Cody, died last year. In 2016, Cody became the first K-9 officer for wildlife officials since a program existed briefly in the early 1990s.
The K-9s are used to help locate specific items related to wildlife, explained Sgt. Chad Bettridge, DWR K-9 coordinator. They’re trained to follow the track of wildlife violators — such as suspects in trespassing and poaching cases — missing children or lost hikers.
"We can use these dogs for trespassing cases because of their tracking ability for human scent," said wildlife resource officer Matt Burgess, who is Cruz's handler. "We can use them to find wildlife for cases, also items of evidence like weapons or shell casings."
State officials say the work K-9 units do cuts time in searching, which can be crucial for a case.
"When you have a K-9," wildlife resource officer Josh Carver said, "you're actually shortening up the time that might spend scouring a field, looking for something."
Cruz will be assigned to cover cases in northern Utah, while Carlo will help cover southern Utah. They will also help outside agencies in their regions when needed, according to state wildlife officials.
The dogs joined Utah’s outdoor force following a nine-week training program led by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at Patoka Lake, Indiana, which is located within the Hoosier National Forest, officials added.
“Both of our K-9s successfully completed numerous multi-mile tracks during their training,” Bettridge said in a statement.
They are friendly dogs, Bettridge added, and will also go with their handlers to school programs and other community functions.
Contributing: Mike Anderson, KSL TV