SALT LAKE CITY — It's difficult to recruit the best candidate for the job.
Josh Carver had a few things in mind when he set about finding a suitable partner, but he is the first to admit his expectations were high.
"One of the things our agency was hoping for is something that has high drive and can work all day long," he said, adding the ideal pick also needs to be highly sociable.
Along came Cody.
"He has that hunting drive, the retrieve drive, he has his play drive and of course, he is so social, he loves people," Carver said.
Cody, a yellow Labrador, has a long, proud family history of retrieving, but he didn't have a lick of experience in police work, such as search and rescue and sniffing out specific animal body parts or human belongings like cellphones, guns or knives.
Still, Carver said he emerged as the "pick" out of a far-flung field of more than 30 candidates tested over several months because of his drive, affability and, well, more drive.
"I can get a job done more quickly because he has a drive that won't quit," he said. "But when I get home, he knows exactly that it is his playtime. The girls walk their Barbies on him."
Cody is actually one of two K-9 conservation officers that work for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which embarked on acquiring the first dog last year.
Nola covers the northern half of the state, while Cody is based in Cedar City and works the southern portion of Utah.
Utah's Police Academy has a specialty K-9 program that attracts handlers and their partners from all over the country for certification and training.
Carver said initial investments in a trained dog can easily run $6,000 or $7,000.
Cody was a bargain at $1,200 — but because he was destined to work for a state agency in Utah — the eight-week training was free.
"Utah has been a little late to the program" of having K-9s work in the field of wildlife conservation, Carver said.
States that include Idaho, Delaware, Minnesota and Indiana have K-9s in the field that locate species of animals, do search and rescue, track wounded animals, and search for fugitives and evidence.
"Until Cody, I've been out there by myself working a case from start to finish," he said. "Having a dog is one more tool to getting the job done more effectively."
On his first unofficial, but successful case, Carver brought Cody home from the academy in Salt Lake City this fall and decided to stop off at a Cedar City pond to let his new partner take a playful dip in the water.
Instead, Cody honed in on a fisherman sitting near the water's edge, sniffing out a trout concealed in a nearby bucket. The man lacked a fishing license.
In another instance, a hunter shot a deer that ran off and wound up on private property, where it died from its wounds.
The private property owner was sure the hunter was lying about where he shot the animal, and wasn't going to give it up.
"Cody was actually able to prove this guy's innocence, that he didn't shoot it on private property. The guy didn't have to go kill another deer, and this one didn't go to waste."Comment on this story
In perhaps what may be the most valuable function Cody performs for the state wildlife agency is the dog's ability to win hearts with a wag of the tail and spread the message that Utah wildlife matters.
"The schools will call me and that opens up a discussion about wildlife and why it is important to protect them," Carver said. "It's been a huge success because Cody shows you how generous he really is. He works really hard on the job, treats everyone he meets with respect and loves what he is doing."