The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Canine Team completed eight weeks of training around the state and "graduated" Friday, June 16 at the Clemson SCDNR office.

The dogs have been training in tracking humans, retrieval of articles and evidence, search and recovery and wildlife detection. Specific wildlife species that the dogs are trained in finding are duck, mourning dove, deer, bear and wild turkey.

SCDNR’s Canine Team consists of five Labrador retrievers and handlers who are conservation officers from each of the state’s four regions, along with a Canine Team supervisor, Capt. Gentry Thames of Pineland.

"The dogs will be used on a daily basis as a law enforcement tool and will assist other agencies as requested for tracking, search and rescue and locating missing persons," said Thames.

Making up the Canine Team are four black Labs and one yellow Lab, ranging in age from 16-22 months, three males and two females. The four regional officers and their dogs are Lance Cpl. Brian Welch of Clemson, from Region 1, and "Max"; Pfc. Brian Urquhart of Florence, from Region 2, and "Lola"; Pfc. Patrick Nettles of Bamberg, from Region 3, and "Cash"; and Sgt. Freddie Earhart of Moncks Corner, from Region 4, and "Blue." Thames’ dog, the yellow Lab, is named "Rio."

Handlers for the canine unit were chosen by captains in each of the regions based upon the officer’s work history and their interest in the canine program.

The Labs were acquired from Pacific Coast Canine, and the owner of the company spent six weeks helping train the dogs and their handlers. A total of 320 training hours took place all over the state, including five weeks at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County, along with other training in Aiken, Lancaster and Oconee counties.

The SCDNR Canine Team, shown here beside Lake Hartwell in Pickens County, will be a key ingredient in SCDNR's law enforcement efforts. From left are Lance Cpl. Brian Welch of Clemson and 'Max'; Pfc. Patrick Nettles of Bamberg and 'Cash'; Capt. Gentry Thames of Pineland and 'Rio'; Pfc. Brian Urquhart of Florence and 'Lola'; and Sgt. Freddie Earhart of Moncks Corner and 'Blue.' (SCDNR photo by Greg Lucas)