Learn about MDC's new 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 earlier this year.

People will get a chance to meet MDC’s Canine Unit team for the southwest part of the state at this year’s Ozark Empire Fair. Polk County Conservation Agent Corporal Susan Swem and MDC’s yellow Labrador “Astro” will be giving programs at the MDC building on the west side of the Fairgrounds on these nights of the Fair:

  • Thursday, July 29
  • Monday, Aug. 2
  • Wednesday, Aug. 4
  • Friday, Aug. 6

At each of these programs, which will begin at 6:30 p.m., Corporal Swem will explain how Astro and the other members of MDC’s Canine Unit will be used by conservation agents across the state. She will also demonstrate Astro’s scent-detection skills in seek-and-find demonstrations around the MDC building.

Swem and Astro are one of five pairs of conservation agent handlers and dogs that make up MDC’s Canine Unit. 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 staff approximately 800 man-hours per year.

Learning about MDC’s canine unit is not the only conservation-related information people can get at the MDC building. MDC Conservation Education Lyle Whittaker and Morgan Rodery will also be presenting conservation-themed programs several days of the fair. The schedule for these programs is:

  • July 30, 3:30-4 p.m. – Discover Nature Fishing basics
  • July 31, 3:30-4 p.m. and 7:30-8 p.m. – Missouri Amphibians and Reptiles
  • July 31, 6:30-7:30 p.m. – Be Bear Aware
  • Aug. 2, 3:30-4 p.m. – Outdoor Nature Crafts
  • Aug. 4, 3:30-4 p.m. – Discover Nature Activities for Pre-Schoolers
  • Aug. 6, 3:30-4 p.m. – Invasive Aquatic Species
  • Aug. 7, 3:30-4:30 p.m. – Common Missouri Insects
  • Aug. 7, 7:30-8 p.m. – Be Bear Aware

In addition to these events, on display in the MDC building will be live fish, snakes, and an assortment of free information on Missouri’s fish, forest, and wildlife resources. The Ozark Empire Fair runs from July 29 through August 7. The MDC building will be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. each day of the fair.