A little dog has a big job in helping keep the Columbia River Basin free from invasive Quagga and Zebra mussels. Puddles is a two-year-old jack Russell terrier mix who was rescued from a California shelter to become trained to detect invasive freshwater mussels on boats and other watercraft that are being brought by trailer into the state of Washington.
She came to join the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Aquatic Invasive Species unit and works with her handler, Sargent Pam Taylor, at the watercraft inspection station just west of the Idaho state line on Interstate 90.
Puddles, who has her own badge as a member of the WDFW enforcement team, is able to detect invasive mussel contamination on watercraft more quickly than a human inspection; she is also able to detect mussel larve invisible to the human eye. Washington has performed 26,281 total inspections this year – 8,843 of the inspected watercraft came from infested waterbodies – and intercepted 13 mussel-fouled boats, two of which had not been previously inspected by other states or provinces. Last year the department found 18 boats contaminated with mussels. According to the Washington Invasive Species Council, it could cost the state of Washington $100 million a year to manage invasive mussels should they contaminate and spread throughout Washington water bodies. The mussels multiply rapidly and form hard, calciferous masses of shells that can clog water intakes and other submerged equipment at, for example, docks and hydropower dams.
The staff working at the watercraft inspection station want boaters to be informed about the threat of invasive Quagga/Zebra mussels so they can understand the importance of stopping to have their boats inspected. The inspection station at the state line is open seven days a week, inspections are brief usually lasting less than five minutes. And for boaters who like dogs, there’s an added bonus of seeing Puddles doing her job.