States Unleash the Hounds! Sniffing Out Invasive Mussels

By: - May 7, 2013 12:00 am

Joining California, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is training dogs to sniff out tiny zebra mussels that are destroying aquatic food chains and clogging power plants. (Handout, Department of Natural Resources)

Minnesota is adding muscle to its mussel hunt.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday it will unleash (or, occasionally keep leashed) three zebra- mussel sniffing dogs in an effort to squelch the tiny creature’s costly invasion. The mussels are ravaging the state’s aquatic ecosystems.

That makes Minnesota the second state, following California, to team up with man’s best friend to fight back against creatures that cling so tightly to surfaces they sometimes need to be jackhammered off. The mussels have destroyed aquatic food chains, clogged power plants and water delivery systems and, in a few cases, shut them down.

As Stateline has reported, states don’t take the issue lightly, but a patchwork of regulations has made it hard to address the problem on a national scale. States spent millions of dollars on efforts, including inspecting boats that could carry them from lake to lake. But dogs can spot the mussels much more quickly than their owners can.

A person might take about 20 minutes to thoroughly inspect a boat, said Debi DeShon, owner of Mussel Dogs, a California-based inspection and consulting service. But dogs, with their finely tuned sniffers, can finish the job in about a minute. That includes rooting out mussels that humans can’t see, like those clinging to the inside of pipes, or those that are too tiny to spot.

Minnesota’s K-9 squads include Laina, a Belgium Malinois purchased from a domestic breeder and Labrador retrievers Brady and Digger, provided by a shelter and an animal rescue organization.

Each dog is healthy, sociable and has a “strong search drive,” said Travis Muyres, a conservation officer and trained dog handler.

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