Learn about MDC's canine unit at Ozark Empire Fair

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Dogs can be a great tool for conservation-related work. That’s why the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) launched its canine unit in 2021.

People will have a chance to meet two members of MDC’s canine unit and their conservation agent handlers at this year’s Ozark Empire Fair. Corporal Susan Swem and her canine partner Astro, a yellow Labrador, and Corporal Andrew Feistel and his canine partner Titan, a German shorthaired pointer, will be giving programs at the MDC building on the west side of the Fairgrounds at 6:30 p.m. on these nights of the Fair:

  • Thursday, July 27
  • Friday, July 28
  • Wednesday, Aug. 2
  • Friday, Aug. 4

The Ozark Empire Fair runs from July 27 through August 5. The MDC building will be open 4 p.m.-9 p.m. on July 27 – the opening night of the fair – and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily throughout the remainder of the fair.

During the canine unit demonstrations, Swem and Feistel will explain how these dogs and the other members of MDC’s canine unit are used by conservation agents across the state. They will also demonstrate Astro’s and Titan’s scent-detection skills in seek-and-find demonstrations around the MDC building.

Statewide, MDC’s canine unit consists of nine pairs of conservation agent handlers and dogs. All handlers and the dogs assigned to them had to complete a nine-week training program. One reason for this training is a legal one: The criminal justice system requires all canines used in any type of law enforcement to be trained and certified in their respective fields of expertise so any evidence they discover can stand up in a court case. This training also develops the skills of the dogs and strengthens the bonds between the conservation agent handlers and the dogs assigned to them.

MDC’s canine unit is not breaking new ground – 36 other states already have canine units as part of their fish and wildlife agencies. Studies have shown that one well-trained dog can save enforcement personnel approximately 800 staff-hours per year.

Learning about MDC’s canine unit is not the only conservation-related information people can get at the MDC building. The MDC building will feature live fish, snakes, and an assortment of free information on Missouri’s fish, forest, and wildlife resources.