State's first Karelian bear dog retiring

Karelian bear dog, Mishka, stands by as state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials release a black bear.

OLYMPIA — Mishka, the state's first Karelian bear dog, is retiring next Thursday after 12 years of service.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has used Mishka to help manage bears, cougars and other predators since 2003.

"I am very proud to have been a part of this innovative way to address human-wildlife conflicts that helps both bears and people and builds teamwork between our enforcement and wildlife programs," said Mishka's handler, Bruce Richards. "Mishka has served Washington wildlife enthusiasts well and has more than earned retirement."

Fish and Wildlife now uses five bear dogs.

Karelian bear dogs — black and white dogs weighing 40-65 pounds — are trained to track, capture and

deter predators. They been used for centuries in Finland and western Russia.

"These dogs are a huge asset to the department, but it's still up to people to prevent wildlife conflict problems by not intentionally or unintentionally providing food sources that draw bears into bad situations," cougar biologist Rich Beausoleil of Wenatchee said.

Beausoleil handles two of the dogs; the other three are in Western Washington.

Mishka will be honored at a ceremony Thursday, March 19, in Kennewick.

Richards, too, plans to retire this spring after 41 years with the agency.

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