Mya, Hektor and Cain are seated on the floor, next to their handlers and partners, waiting for their names to be called. It’s a big day for the three shelter dogs and their handlers. You may be surprised to learn that many of the dogs trained at APHIS’ National Detector Dog Training Center are rescues. Mya and Cain are from Maryland’s Montgomery County Animal Services & Adoption Center and Hektor is from the Fulton County Animal Shelter in Atlanta. They are all officially graduating from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) detector dog training program, and will join two other rescue dogs trained last year and currently part of other detector dog teams as part of the effort to find and eliminate the last of the nutria from the Delmarva Peninsula.
Nutria are invasive, semi-aquatic rodents that live in marshes throughout the country. They weigh between 12 and 20 pounds and were brought to Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore from South America for their fur in 1943. However, their dark brown pelts were not profitable, and they were either released or escaped from fur farms. With no natural predators, the nutria population at Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge exploded.