TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Two dogs formerly “employed” with Southeastern Guide Dogs have made a career change and are now helping out wildlife officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
K-9s “Havoc” (formerly “Cabot”) and “Jennifer” participated in a demonstration on Monday, showing off their new skills. The dogs from Southeastern Guide Dogs graduated from the FWC academy in March and are now out in the field every day.
FWC officer Malakai Wilkins explained that receiving dogs who have too much energy to be a guide dog is a good thing for his field of work, especially since those dogs already have a degree of training before they get to FWC.
“Our academy is about six months long, so you’re taking an element that you don’t really have to teach them, some of the obedience, to sit and stay and things like that. So when you get a dog like that, you can just roll them right in to what we want to train them to do,” he said.
Officer Wilkins explained they use their K-9 officers to track humans, like a lost hiker in a state park, as well as for detection of concealed wildlife, like a boater hiding snook on their vessel.
Monday’s demonstration showed the K-9s locating venison.
Officer Wilkins said the bond with their dogs is “phenomenal.”
“You know, you take this dog that maybe felt like it didn’t have purpose in this realm and you build that bond and you train it to do what you want it to do, the connection is just phenomenal,” he said. “It really makes you feel good that you trained something that you can talk to that doesn’t talk back to you, and you’ve given it simple commands and it’s doing what you want it to do. It’s pretty neat.”
He said he believes FWC has 21 K-9 officers statewide and 12 of them came from Southeastern Guide Dogs.
Monday was Sam Doyle’s, Public Adoptions and Public Service coordinator at Southeastern Guide Dogs, first time seeing the dogs in action in their new careers.
“So I am starting to pull dogs for programs such as these and I’m just really excited to see the dogs that I’ve built a bond with be able to go on to their new handlers and have a career that they really enjoy doing,” she said.
Doyle said high drive, high confidence and other factors make a dog a better fit for FWC rather than a guide dog.
“Certain dogs are definitely very scent-driven. We do have one dog right that was unfortunately career changed from being a guide dog due to scenting and a job like this, she is perfect. She is a super star and we love that,” Doyle said.
She said the program is dedicated to finding their dogs the perfect place to go and they take a lot of pride in matching dogs with handlers for guide work or service work.
“We also have other programs and we really, our priority is to get them out there to some sort of career that will really help make a positive important. Even if it isn’t public service work, guide work, companion and ESA-type programs, just providing these dogs to a family to be a pet, it really makes a difference,” Doyle said. “These people are so grateful to have these dogs even as a pet, so really no matter where they go, we’re just happy to see them excel.”