Washington’s First Karelian Bear Dog Retiring After 12 Years of Service

Washington's First Karelian Bear dog  Retiring After 12 Years of Service
Washington’s First Karelian Bear dog Retiring After 12 Years of Service
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Washington -(Ammoland.com)- The first Karelian bear dog (KBD) used to help manage conflicts with bears and other potentially dangerous wildlife in Washington state is retiring after 12 years of service.

Mishka, a KBD who was enlisted for duty by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist in 2003, is retiring after helping to resolve hundreds of tense situations with bears, cougars and other wildlife.

Mishka has worked with WDFW enforcement officer Bruce Richards in the Puget Sound region since 2007, when the dog’s original owner/handler, Rocky Spencer, died in a helicopter accident.

Spencer, a WDFW carnivore specialist, acquired Mishka as a pup from the Wind River Bear Institute in Montana, where KBDs are bred and trained in the centuries-old tradition of hunters and farmers in Finland and western Russia.

The black and white dogs, averaging 40 to 65 pounds, are instinctively bold with bears and can be trained to track, help capture and deter them from returning to places where they can get in trouble with humans.

Using a technique called a “hard release,” Richards has worked side-by-side with Mishka to chase and harass bears after they have been released from a trap in order to re-instill their natural fear of humans. Richards estimates that at least 80 percent of bears trapped and released this way avoid becoming “repeat offenders” that may ultimately be killed.

Richards, who is also retiring this spring after 41 years with WDFW, says Mishka solves more bear problems in a year than most officers can in a career.

“I am very proud to have been a part of this innovative way to address human-wildlife conflicts that helps both bears and people and builds teamwork between our enforcement and wildlife programs,” Richards said. “Mishka has served Washington wildlife enthusiasts well and has more than earned retirement.”

WDFW now uses five other KBDs to haze bears, assist in law-enforcement investigations, locate injured and orphaned wildlife, and help educate the public about ways to avoid conflicts with wildlife. Three of those dogs are used by WDFW officers in western Washington, and two others are used by WDFW bear and cougar biologist Rich Beausoleil of Wenatchee.

“These dogs are a huge asset to the department, but it’s still up to people to prevent wildlife conflict problems by not intentionally or unintentionally providing food sources that draw bears into bad situations,” Beausoleil said.

Mishka will be honored at a ceremony Thursday, March 19, in Kennewick. For more information, call Madonna Luers at 509-892-7853.