An elite special investigative team is being used to keep out the invasive zebra mussel from Alberta waters, and while the pests haven't invaded B.C. waters yet, it is best to be careful, says one team member.

The team consists of three mussel-sniffing dogs and their handlers, who inspect boats on land before they are transported to another body of water, to ensure they do not spread the invasive species.

The Alberta team is particularly concerned about snowbirds bringing boats back home from U.S. lakes and rivers, where the zebra mussel was discovered for the first time 20 years ago, believed to have been carried in the ballast tanks of ships from Europe.

"Our dogs can sniff all across that boat, in the different nooks and crannies where the mussels like to hide," said Cindy Sawchuk, coordinator of Alberta's Conservation K-9 program.

"Then they will ultimate display an alert if they find the mussels and that's how they get rewarded."

Sawchuk is speaking Tuesday night at a forum organized by the Invasive Species Council of B.C.

She encourages boaters to always 'Clean, Drain, Dry' their vessels every time they leave a body of water in order to eliminate the risk of transporting the invasive mussels.

Invasive species cause more than $1.4 billion — nearly five per cent of the global economy — in damages and economic loss worldwide, according to the Invasive Species Council of B.C. 

1 dog out of every 1,000 makes the cut

Diesel mussel sniffing dog

Diesel, and handler Heather McCubbin, another duo on the K-9 Conservation team, inspects a boat for mussels before the boat and its owner can proceed to different body of water. (AB Environment and Parks)

Hilo, Sawchuk's dog, is one of three members in the mussel-sniffing team. It takes a special type of dog to make the cut, and many are actually found in shelters, she said.

"Less than 1 in 1,000 dogs has what it takes to make a working dog," she said.

"These dogs don't make really good family pets. They're actually super high energy and they really need a job to do.


To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Zebra mussel invasion meets its match — a dog's snout.