Texas Game Warden Profile: Ruger

By | Features

Rescued from a meth house in Washington state, Ruger might have been destined for a life of crime. But those who found him could see his promise, and after a short stay at an animal shelter, Ruger’s life purpose became clear. He was taken in by the good folks at Pacific Coast K-9 in Washington state and began a rigorous training regimen that would transform him from an undisciplined puppy to a focused crime fighter.

About that same time, leaders in the Law Enforcement Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were researching what it would take to start a K-9 Unit in Texas. With support from Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the first team of five dogs and five game warden handlers began their training in 2013. The dogs were purchased from Pacific Coast K-9. Texas Game Warden Christy Vales was one of those first handlers, and she was paired up with Ruger, a yellow Labrador. Like his fellow K-9s, Ruger is a commissioned peace officer for the State of Texas, an official Texas Game Warden.

“He’s such a happy good dog,” said Christy, who now leads the Texas Game Warden K-9 Unit as its Captain. “It’s almost like he knew that he was rescued from a life of crime. His desire to hunt and find a lost person or track a criminal is so high when we are on a mission, and he loves affection and attention. He’s constantly seeking confirmation that he’s a good dog.”

Christy and Ruger have been on hundreds of missions together, from catching poachers to rescuing lost children, locating firearms used during poaching cases and homicides, and responding to natural disasters. A few years ago, Christy got a call about a poaching case in Milam County. Two male subjects had illegally killed two white-tailed deer at night near a gravel yard and the county game wardens needed some assistance. They had the first man in custody, and they knew the second one was nearby. Once Christy and Ruger arrived on the scene, Ruger got to work.

“Within a few minutes, Ruger picked up his scent and led us right to him,” she said. “He was hiding behind a tractor-trailer in the gravel yard and we quickly apprehended him.”

Another time, Ruger helped rescue four young children under the age of ten who were lost in the woods near Bastrop. It was a bitterly cold February night, and the children had been missing since 5:00 p.m. Christy and Ruger, along with Bastrop County Game Wardens, got the call about midnight. Ruger quickly honed in, and pulled Christy straight to the frightened children at about the same time that sheriff’s deputies provided their location from a cell phone the children used to call 911. The cell phone had no service, but one of the children realized that they could still dial 911 for help.

“The kids were freezing cold and very relieved to see us,” said Christy. “We gave them some blankets to warm them up and some food and water. I gave one of the kids one of Ruger’s toys, and they played with Ruger until we could get them safely home. He helped calm them down, and he’s a great partner to have in the field.”

Ruger has a strong work ethic, and if he could go catch a bad guy or rescue someone in trouble every day, that would be just fine with him.

“He’s nonstop every single day,” said Christy. “If we’re at home and I’m on the computer and my work phone rings, I have to go outside to have the conversation because he will just keep barking and circling, thinking we have a call.”

The Texas Game Warden K-9 unit has grown to nine handlers and dogs who perform missions all over the state. One additional team will be trained in 2020.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has supported the K-9 unit since its inception. In recent years, TPWF has provided gear for the K-9 unit through the Gear Up for Game Warden program, which provides specialty gear for game wardens on two legs and four. Most recently, Gear Up for Game Wardens provided Garmin tactical watches for every K-9 team. The watches sync to equipment on each K-9 officer, and help each handler track the dog’s movements in the field.

“The support we get through Gear Up for Game Wardens has been amazing,” said Christy. “The specialty gear that has been provided to us helps keep our K-9 officers safe so that we can do the best job possible for the people of Texas.”

Find out how you can donate specialty equipment for your Texas Game Wardens:

Gear Up for Game Wardens Tops $1 Million Milestone

By | Features

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program topped a $1 million fundraising milestone just two years after the program launched. Thanks to you, more than $1.2 million has been raised to provide the specialty gear our Texas Game Wardens need to be safer, more efficient, and more effective.

Since the program launched in October 2017, close to 900 donations have been made. As a result, specialty equipment and gear has been purchased and deployed across all eight game warden regions in Texas. Specialty gear provided by the program that is now being used by Texas Game Wardens includes search and rescue (SAR) drones, SAR inflatable boats, side scan sonar units, water rescue dry suits, night vision and thermal imaging units, ATVs, UTVs and specialized K-9 units.

“Texas Game Wardens play an important role in the lives of all Texans,” said Dan Flournoy, chair of the Gear Up for Game Wardens Leadership Council. “Along with their duty to protect the natural resources we all hold dear, they are also on the frontlines of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. There have been other significant flooding events in Texas since Gear Up for Game Wardens launched, and there is no doubt in my mind that specialty gear provided through this program has saved lives. We are deeply grateful to the hundreds of Texans who have supported Gear Up for Game Wardens.”

Donations have come from all corners of the state and in all amounts, from $25 to more than $66,000 from the Saltwater Anglers League of Texas (SALT). The Sabine River Authority has also stepped up in appreciation of what Texas Game Wardens do for the people of Texas and has donated more than $70,000 in several grants to the program. An outreach event in Concan in March 2019 called Women Who Wander dedicated the proceeds of the event to Gear Up for Game Wardens for a total of more than $34,000. In addition, co-chairs of the leadership council have staged fundraisers all over the state to fund equipment for their local game wardens.

“The local committees are what make the program successful, and enable us to purchase equipment that our Texas Game Wardens need,” said TPWF Executive Director Susan Houston. “We are deeply grateful for the support of the committees, and for each and every donation we have received.”

Texas Game Wardens have watched over the lands, waters, wildlife and people of Texas for more than 100 years. Every year, Texas Game Wardens patrol over 10 million miles by vehicle and 130,000 hours by boat, facing challenges as unique as the 254 counties they serve.

Find out how you can donate specialty equipment for your Texas Game Wardens: