SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a big weekend for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. They’re hosting the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the crowds walking through the expo, it might seem out of place to hear the bark of a dog — but that's exactly what you would find if you attended on Saturday.
Matt Burgess has been a conservation officer with DWR for over 20 years, but the past four have been different.
Burgess was paired with an anti-poaching partner in 2018: Cruz, the black lab.
“He enjoys doing what we do, and we do that together," said Burgess. "When there are those successes that we have, we share them together.”
The 4-year-old black lab was born in Kamas, Utah, and has trained and worked with Burgess since then.
The two work on tracking poachers, as well as trespassers. Cruz was trained to find artifacts with certain scents.
DWR reports that more than $600,000 in wildlife value was lost in 2021 due to poaching or other criminal behavior. More than 1,000 animals were investigated as either unlawfully taken or killed.
Many of those cases were solved by Cruz and Burgess.
“Anything with shell casings, guns, phones, anything like that, the dogs will usually help us find those as well," said Burgess. "The dog will actually cut those times in half or more if we were to go up and look for that particular type of evidence.”
Cruz can cover more ground than Burgess and at a faster pace.
It's the relationship between dog and handler that has made these past four years so rewarding for Burgess, even though it has been hard work.
"It’s just a bond," he said. "Being able to understand each other and how each other works, it takes a lot of work to get to that point.”
The expo held at the Salt Palace Convention Center will go through Sunday, but the dogs and their handlers were only there for Saturday.