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"She Wears A Badge, Game Warden Lynette Reynolds "

The Fish Sniffer Magazine
July 17, 2001 -- BY JOAN CARTER

When most of us think of a game warden we think of a guy in a "Smokey the Bear" hat checking fishing and hunting licenses. I found out that this picture is an outdated cliché. Game Warden Reynolds of Clearlake, California introduced me to some of the many facets of the job she loves. Among other things, Lynette juggles a family, a career, and a canine search and rescue program that she began with her border collie Brett. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Lynette has loved animals all her life. She had worked with veterinarians and was operating a dog grooming business when she had the opportunity to buy a pet store in the Sonoma valley. Part of her business included reptiles and snakes. At a wholesalers to purchase some lizards, she found he had some sick Asian Water Dragons. She took them, called upon some of her vet knowledge and some common sense, and got them healthy again. This led to adopting more sick lizards and snakes, healing them, and building special enclosures for them upstairs at the pet store, some including waterfalls.

As she became more involved in the exotics aspect of the pet trade, she became convinced she could do more as a game warden than as a store owner. Rennie encouraged her and talked her into getting a two year Junior College Degree which she completed in a year and a half. She envisioned herself working as a Warden in airports, checking for illegal shipments. The testing process for Fish and Game took quite a while. Tests for vision, color blindness, physical ability and endurance were followed by batteries of verbal tests.
During this period she worked as a Seasonal Aide, getting some practical experience. In 1989 Lynette went to the first Fish and Game Academy session in Napa, California. Confined to the compound, she placed her children with her ex-husband, and began classes in vehicle codes, penal codes, first aid, and more. The academy takes longer than other law enforcement academies like the CHP, because it includes the same legal aspects and the added regulations specific to Fish and Game. Once you have passed the grueling testing process, an even tougher road opens up. There are few jobs and the competition is fierce. Six months later Lynette collected a graduation certificate and her children and was off on a new career. As a result of her education and her seasonal work, Lynette came to realize that her focus had changed from reptiles to native animals. City living near a major airport would have been an expensive proposition for a single mom, and Lynette had enjoyed her field work. She was offered and gladly took a position in Lake County, California.

In her duties as a warden, Lynette often rode her horse. The department also allows wardens to work with a companion dog. This is not a working dog, merely a pet, and she took Mandy along until she was getting too old. After Mandy died, Lynette found a border collie and named him Brett. She wanted to train him to do some detection and work with the horse. While operating her grooming business, Lynette also did dog obedience training. As she worked with Brett she got strong indications that he was capable of learning rapidly. She researched what law enforcement dogs had to do, and trained him to their guidelines. Getting him tested and certified was another matter. Since she was not a professional law enforcement trainer and Brett wasn't a German Shepherd or a Rottweiler, no one was interested. She took Brett out on a call where a Highway Patrolman had been reported missing. Since he had been trained in gun powder detection, Brett located the clip from his handgun and eventually found the injured officer.

The CHP was so impressed that they gave Brett his test and he passed with flying colors. Brett and Lynette were getting called out more and more often for scent detection, especially those involving weapons or ammunition, and also search and rescue. The case load led to Lynette creating a team unit with five handlers and five dogs. In three years this has grown to 20 handlers, seventeen of whom are women. These dogs are not attack dogs, when they are not on duty they are family pets, but they are all trained in air scent, ground scent or both. Trailing, or the use of both air and ground scent, is an extremely effective locating technique. This search and rescue team is not affiliated with the Fish and Game Department, and is another of Lynette's many activities.

Three DFG K-9 teams are now in service with the Department of Fish and Game. Warden Kathy Ponting and her Rottweiler Kodiak work in the Central Valley/Hanford area; Warden Lynette Reynolds with Brett, her Border Collie, in Lake County; and Warden Patrick Woods patrols with his German Shepherd, Lesko, in the Eastern Sierra/Bishop area. Along with their detection and tracking duties, these K-9s are trained to protect their partners as they partrol remote areas where law enforcement backup is rare. Statistics show that work as a game warden is extremely hazardous. In fact, wardens suffer nine times more assaults than other law enforcement officers. A K-9 partner offers a major deterrent to physical assault.

On the job, Lynette is involved in many large cases. She is presently working on an abalone poaching case which could lead to five indictments. In the environmental area she is working on a case involving the complete diversion of a stream and the resulting death of all the downstream trout. With the proliferation of agriculture and vineyards in her county, this has become a big problem. Dumping of hazardous waste into streams and ground water is another big problem. Fish and Game is called out whenever a vehicle accident threatens to leak fluids into waterways. Lynette has had her share of deer and possum type calls, and even a close encounter with a black bear. She was dispatched to a trailer park to remove a black bear from under a porch. She was instructed to walk her across the road and into the hills. Lynette would have preferred to wait a couple of hours for equipment to anesthetize the bear and transport it. Attempting to encourage the bear across the road, it suddenly turned, glared at her, and began running towards her like a freight train. Lynette waited until the last possible moment, hoping it was just a false charge, but had to shoot. She pumped six bullets from her 357 into the bear and it finally fell at her feet. On closer examination, the bear appeared to be an old sow, probably senile, thus causing the confrontation. It was a sad solution to the problem of infringing territories.

I asked Lynette what she looked for in her future. She said she had thought of promoting, but was really happiest working as a warden and field training officer. Rookies spend about three weeks training with a field officer in specialized areas. Lynette's specialties are private lands, public relations, and night work. She feels she can help focus her trainees and help them to make an impact through their careers. She wants to continue working in conservation education, the search and rescue operations, and in promoting the canine program of the department. As with all agencies, the canine program needs funding. The first year's training of a new dog and handler costs around $10,000. Her work in the schools will ensure that generations to come will understand the guardianship we must assume for all living things and the eco-systems they inhabit. "Instead of just penalizing people, I want to educate them!"

To learn more about the Fish and Game Department and their many programs, you can visit their website at http://www.womentechworld.org/bios/game/articles/she.htm#

Originally published September 23, 1999

"It was kind of a make it or break it," Lusky said. "I guess I made it."

Columnist Joan Carter co-owns, with her husband, Dan Carter's Guide Service.



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