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Poacher the pooch has busy year working for New Hampshire Fish and Game

Daymond Steer – Staff Photo NH FISH AND GAME Department K-9 Unit is led by Conservation Officer Mark Hensel and teammate Poacher, an eight-year-old black lab. (click for larger version)
January 07, 2010
WOLFEBORO — From busting a bank robbery suspect to sniffing out crooked sportsmen, Poacher, Fish and Game's K-9 had a particularly busy year in 2009.

But the eight-year-old black Labrador Retriever may retire next year, said his handler Conservation Officer Mark Hensel. This year, Poacher has been involved in about 130 law enforcement related missions, which resulted in 85 actions (arrests or tickets). Poacher participated in about 110 search and rescue missions, during which he made 14 finds that resulted in three lives saved. Two people were saved in Effingham and the other person was saved in Littleton.

"One person was in dire need and in grave danger and would not have survived the night had he not found the person when he did," said Hensel of Poacher.

Several of Poacher's criminal cases were particularly exciting. He worked two murder investigations and also helped find some home invasion suspects. Among his most noteworthy achievements was sniffing out the getaway driver for the man who robbed Profile Bank in Wakefield last January.

"There wouldn't have been too much to tie the accomplice to the bank robbery without the dog," said Hensel.

But thanks to Poacher, Tammy Fowler, of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, was found guilty in U.S. District Court of aiding and abetting bank robber Paul Dimeo. She is now serving a 63-month prison sentence.

More often, Poacher is looking for hunters and fishermen who take game illegally, including deer, moose, bear, and landlocked salmon. In November, Poacher was called to Millsfield to investigate the shooting of a bald eagle. Using his nose, Poacher was able to find the shell casing of the slug that wounded the bird.

Poacher is New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's only K-9. He and Hensel primarily cover southern Carroll County but they do travel all over the state when duty calls.

Last week, Hensel and Poacher were on patrol at Beech Pond in Wolfeboro. While Hansel talked to the ice fisherman and checked their licenses, Poacher was busy doing his thing— sniffing everything and playing fetch. When Poacher chases a ball he goes full tilt, his nose becomes a little plow that sends the snow flying in all directions as grabs for the ball. Still, he looks he looks the part of an official law enforcement dog because the bright gold badge on his collar stands out against his jet-black fur. Poacher is certified by the U.S. Police Canine Association in tracking, evidence recovery, agility, obedience and fish detection.

Hensel says Poacher's favorite thing in the world is chasing a tennis ball. In fact, a good game of fetch is Poacher's reward for making a find.

But it wasn't all fun and games for Poacher. He also did a little demonstration of his fish finding abilities. After asking an angler for permission, Hensel hid the fisherman's catch — a big frozen rainbow trout— in the man's cooler and then told Poacher to find the fish. Sure enough, Poacher was able to locate it in short order.

Poacher would use this skill to sniff out ill-gotten game like landlocked salmon that are illegally taken though the ice. In the summer, Poacher might sniff for fish kept under the legal length.

Ask Hensel about Poacher and it becomes clear that he's very proud of his pooch. Hensel and Poacher have lives together since Poacher was eight weeks old. The two train together every day and for fun they both enjoy hunting together.

"He's a member of the family, he's my best friend and my partner," said Hensel. "We're absolutely inseparable."

But Poacher is getting old and has developed a stiff leg after working in law enforcement since 2003. So, he may retire at the end of the year if Fish and Game Department is able to get some new dogs. In total, the department would like to have a total of three. At a cost of less than $1,500 per year, dogs provide the department a tremendous value, said Hensel.

For Poacher, retirement means continuing to live with Hensel and having a semi regular dog life. Even in retirement Poacher will come along on a few cases working as a furry consultant, said Hensel.

Poacher was bred by Mirabelle Labradors in Effingham.

To enquire about sponsoring a dog, call 271-3127 or visit www.wildnh.com.

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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