Dogs Are Protecting an SLO Reservoir From a Nasty Invader

An invasive species of mussel is threatening lakes in San Luis Obispo County. For help, the Public Works Department is turning to man’s best friend.

An 8-year-old chocolate Labrador named Popeye is patrolling Lake Nacimiento this weekend, using his sensitive sniffer to protect the reservoir from a dangerous invader. He and his friends — Nemo, Captain, Noah and Sinbad — are the Mussel Dogs, a group of Labs, a mutt and a German Shepard specially trained to inspect boats for invasive species and protect California’s waterways from quagga and zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels, which are native to lakes in Russia and Ukraine, could wreak havoc on the lakes’ ecosystem, as well as the boats that come through.

They “proliferate like crazy,” said Mark Hutchinson, deputy director of the San Luis Obispo County Public Works Department. “They can reduce the capacity of a pipe and plug it up.”

That’s where Popeye and friends come in. They sniff out the destructive mollusks before they can enter SLO’s waters — typically by hitching a ride on a boat.

“Everybody loves the dogs,” said their owner Debi DeShon. “Dogs can smell where we can’t see.”

The K-9s are joined by more than 200 human volunteers. Working together, they hope to prevent some of the problems that have plagued lakes in Minnesota and elsewhere where zebra mussels have already taken hold.

Read more about their work here.