Ayla works to protect Pennsylvania wildlife for future generations

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

Game law violations that happen deep in the woods can be solved thanks to special dogs who are working for law enforcement.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has special investigators with canines who are assigned to each of the six regions in the state.

Shawn Barron, overt special investigator and canine handler with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, with his dog Ayla Oct. 8 at State Game Lands 50 in Somerset County.

Shawn Barron is one of the six overt special investigators/canine handlers who has a dog that assists with his work. Stationed in the southwest region of Pennsylvania, he works with game wardens and other agencies to find evidence.

At his side is his 20-month old American Labrador retriever named Ayla. She is, “protecting our wildlife for current and future generations,” he summarized about her work.

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He said the breed works well for his job as they are hunting dogs who keep their nose close to the ground and are good with other dogs. “They’re high drive,” he said about their ability to retrieve and willingness to please their master. A video of Barron working with Ayla is available with the online version of this story.

Ayla, a 20-month-old American Labrador Retriever, does investigations in southwest Pennsylvania for the Game Commission. She is one of six dogs across the state working for the agency.

Ayla’s work is about seeking and finding, not apprehension of suspects. “She’s not a bite dog in any shape or form. She would rather lick you to death,” he said with a smile.

The dog helps field officers when they get calls about illegal activities. One day Ayla helped the state police track a suspect, and later on she helped the Game Commission determine where a deer was illegally shot over bait.  

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With the poaching incident, Ayla found the blood where the deer was shot. “Without that nose, we may not have been to find blood and been able to prove it,” he said.

Hunting over bait for deer is one of the most prevalent violations the commission faces. “It’s not fair chase hunting,” he said.

Some hunters place bait and mineral rocks out during the summer months to attract wildlife to their trail cameras. But the bait and the residue dirt need to be removed 30 days before anyone can hunt in that area. “The bait stays in the ground a long time,” he said.

Ayla also helps with incidents where people are accused of shooting illegally from the road. She’s able to find shell casings and articles of clothing that may be left at a crime scene.

Shawn Barron, overt special investigator and canine handler with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, stands Oct. 8 with his dog Ayla at his truck.

Barron remembers one call where someone reported a person was trespassing and shot a turkey. Ayla was able to find where the person was sitting and found the wad from the shotgun shell and feathers where the bird was killed within about 10 minutes.

He said it was everything the officer needed to talk to the suspect.

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Another memorable case involved a call where someone was taking corn into the woods to hunt over, but they didn’t know where in the large tract of woods the hunter was going.

Barron said Ayla was able to track the scent for close to a half mile over terrain that included an embankment and creek right to the individual who was hunting over bait.

“There’s lots of memorable things, but those are the ones that stand out,” he said about her field work.

The wardens are thankful to have canines available to them in each region.

Warden Andrew Harvey said having Barron and Ayla available gives him “peace of mind for officers in the field.”

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For instances where a shooting was reported, Harvey said Ayla is able to come out and find evidence such as a rifle shell casing much faster than humans.

She can locate keys, wallets, firearms or anything that is an anomaly on the landscape.

Harvey remembers working with the duo on Thanksgiving to help him with a call. The dog wanted to track to another area from where the men were focused and found someone hunting out of season. “We had no idea he was there,” Harvey said.

Ayla, who works with Pennsylvania Game Commision Overt Special Investigator Shawn Barron, waits Oct. 8 in the truck for her next command.

“During our training it was ingrained in us to trust our dogs,” Barron said.

In addition, Harvey said Barron’s computer expertise helps him track down suspects who are difficult to locate. “People are not very good at updating their driver’s licenses,” he said about Barron having additional ways to find new addresses of people.

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“We can get past the investigations and move on to other things a lot faster,” he said about Barron’s and Ayla’s work.

From reviewing illegal hunting activities posted on social media to helping track down the identity or address of a suspect, Barron is trained to find people who committed crimes, such as taking animals illegally or abusing them.

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He said his work is probably 50% investigations and 50% canine work that he enjoys.

If you suspect a crime has happened, Barron said to call your regional field office or Operation Game Thief. To confidentially report information, call the Operation Game Thief’s toll-free hotline – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – at 1-888-PGC-8001 or fill out an online form at http://bit.ly/PGCOGT.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.