Harrison County

This is the face of a law dog ... seriously

Cockers Used For Marine Enforcement

Alabama gives Mississippi a demonstration in how cocker spaniels can be used to sniff out illegal fish on boats.
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Alabama gives Mississippi a demonstration in how cocker spaniels can be used to sniff out illegal fish on boats.

BILOXI -- The images that come to mind for a law enforcement dog include broad shoulders, pointed ears, an intense stance and the ability to take down an assailant on the run.

Gaines, however, was chosen because he is the opposite of these things.

He's portable, generally friendly and rather flexible -- until he spots an illegal fish hidden in a flare case on a boat. Then he's rather adamant.

Gaines is a marine law enforcement dog. He works for the Alabama Department of Conservation, and he and his handler, enforcement officer Christopher Cox, gave a demonstration Tuesday at the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources.

Maj. Scott Bannon, chief of Alabama's Marine Enforcement Division, explained to the CMR how he came to have an English Springer Spaniel named Morgan and the English Cocker Spaniel named Gaines, as law dogs.

These traits were crucial:

Portable -- easy for their handlers to pick up by the vest and place aboard a boat.

Flexible -- able to run all over a boat and into small spaces.

Workaholics -- ready to work at all times.

Good with people -- because not every boat they check has hidden fish. These dogs leave a good impression and generally like kids.

After all, what dog can't sniff out a fish?

Bannon did say Alabama marine enforcement was able to get some grants to buy and outfit the dogs. Auburn University trained them at no cost to the state. Gaines finished his training in February, so it's all still new for Alabama.

Bannon threw out the figure of $55,000. That was the cost to create the program, but it includes housing, feeding, vet bills, special equipment and transportation features like heat alarms. The pair of dogs are named after Alabama's two historic forts (if you didn't get that).

What Bannon wanted and is already seeing is that public demonstrations of what these dogs can do is a deterrent to anyone thinking about over-fishing, fishing out of season or keeping a fish that's too small. The pooches can find an illegal fish fillet that's double-bagged, in a zip box, inside a cooler, inside a compartment on a boat.

Bannon told the CMR he's trying to change human behavior with these dogs. The people who are thinking about breaking the marine laws think again when they see a demonstration by Gaines.

And Gaines is so cheerful about giving one.

So will Mississippi follow suit?

DMR spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said, "We're looking at it."

Rusty Pittman, assistant chief of DMR patrols, said they have to consider the cost, as well as training an officer. Commissioner Richard Gollott was noncommittal; he just laughed.

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