Friday, September 17, 2010

Flexible Creativity – A Park Ranger Skill

During my career as a National Park Ranger I had to learn to do without much in the way of budget that translated to equipment, supplies, and tools to do the job.  This constant condition shaped the ability to improvise and make do with you was at hand.  At times the use of psychological warfare techniques could be useful to deal with problems.

One summer day a visitor brought what they thought was a stray dog to the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  When I stopped by I was shown where the dog was tied to a rope leash in the back of the building.  I was informed that some visitors had picked the dog up along the road shoulder about five miles north of the Visitor Center.  The dog, which appeared to be a lab mix, was extremely friendly appearing to be well fed and in good condition.  I also knew that there were quite a few residences just out of sight from the area where the dog was picked up and that he was most likely a wondering family pet.

The dog enthusiastically jumped into the back seat of the car and I headed north to see if he could lead me to his home.  We stopped in the Rockfish Valley Overlook where there were four of five vehicles parked and visitors meandering around the grounds.  I let the dog out of the car in the hopes that he would sense where he was and head home.  The dog started to explore the overlook seeking odors around the litter can and where some people were sitting on the grass.  A young man approached me with a big smile and jokingly asked, “Is that a drug dog?’

A light bulb in my head seemed to go off as my playful and creative side kicked in and I answered, “Yea, we just got him back from training and are trying to get him oriented to the area.”
“Oh,” was the answer I got back as the man’s face turned a bit white and his jaw dropped.  He quickly skipped back to his group of friends and they hurriedly packed up their blanket, jumped into a car, and sped off.
I found this response interesting and the dog was still hanging around in the overlook, so I loaded him back into the car and moved on to the Afton Mountain Overlook.  Six or more cars were parked here with about dozen young adults sitting on the grass bank of the overlook smoking and talking while others were listening to music.  All eyes turned toward me as I pulled up in my marked patrol car and opened the back door releasing the dog.  My new partner started his same routine starting to sniff around the grounds working his way toward the crowd.  I stepped toward them and announced so all could hear, “Don’t worry.  This is our new drug dog and we are just trying to get him used to the area.  He is really friendly.”

I do not think I have ever seen people get up off the ground as quickly as almost everyone gathered up their belongings, got into their cars, and moved out with urgency that was obvious.

The dog circled the overlook several more times and then crossed the road heading up a well worn but unofficial trail.  I assumed he wanted to get home before dinner time.

I never did see the same dog again.  But about a month later a local law enforcement agency called me at my office.  They had heard that we had a drug dog and wanted to know if they could make use of his services.  I was amazed how the story of the dog had spread through the community.  I did have to humbly explain that we did not have a trained drug detector.  The agency representative did not seem to see the humor in the situation. 

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