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: