Woman helps pay for surgery to save state's wildlife dog

MILL CREEK, Wash. -- Whenever there's a problem bear or a a cougar that could be a threat to the public, you can bet wildlife officers will show up with a service dog.

The Karelian bear dogs have become a critical part of wildlife management, but the program almost went bankrupt. The program relies solely on donations; it does not take a penny of taxpayer money.

One of the newest dogs, Indy, needed a life-saving surgery over the summer.

"When (the veterinarian) cut him open, there was a suction cup in the small intestine and a string from a baseball that my kids have at home that got torn to pieces. And that was in there, just working its way back and forth," said Indy's handler, Officer Dave Jones.

The surgery cost a whopping $13,000. It saved Indy's life, but potentially at the cost of the entire program.

"We are and continue to be about one catastrophe away from being bankrupt," said Captain Bill Hebner of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

On Tuesday the team gathered to thank an Issaquah business owner who helped pay the big bill. Denise Stringfellow's Riverdog Canine Coaching raised more than $3,000.

"You guys are doing it right," she told the team. "And we're proud of all the work you do in our community and very grateful."

That work includes using their powerful sense of smell to track hidden evidence in a recent elk poaching case. Dogs Mishka and Spencer sniffed out the hidden carcasses of two elk, helping officers make arrests.

And the fearless dogs save lives. They'll put themselves in harm's way to protect their human handlers.

By teaching wild animals to stay away from people, officers can release a problem bear instead of euthanize it.

"It would be a huge loss to the state," said Hebner. "And frankly, we wouldn't be as effective as we are now, and more bear and cougar would have to be lethally removed instead of released elsewhere to live their lives in the wild."

You can't put a price on that.

"They're in our backyard getting out bear and cougar," said Stringfellow. "And even on days when they don't, they're educating the public about wildlife. They're in our backyards. We should help them."

To learn more about the KBD program, visit the Karelian bear dog program's website.

You can send a donation to:

Attn: Captain Bill Hebner
16018 Mill Creek Blvd.
Mill Creek, WA 98012

For more information on Indy's surgery, visit Animal Surgery Clinic of Seattle's website.