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April 26, 2013

From ‘too much to handle’ to protector of public health: Clancy, the mercury-detecting dog, has died

Clancy was on St. Paul K-9 Unit for 9 years


St. Paul —

From dog pound to international stardom, Clancy, the only mercury-detecting dog in the United States, passed away April 21.

Clancy will be remembered for his single-minded commitment to improving Minnesota's environment and protecting public health by searching for potentially harmful mercury, asking nothing in return but an ordinary tennis ball. He was 14 years old.

Clancy was part of an elite team in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Mercury-Free Zone Program. When the program first began, the MPCA turned to the award-winning St. Paul Police Canine Unit for help in selecting and training a dog.

A Labrador Retriever-hound mix, Clancy was energetic, intelligent and had an intense drive to play. The canine unit trainer had looked at more than 200 dogs before he discovered Clancy at the Ramsey County Humane Society. On the sheet describing the dog was scribbled: “Too much to handle.” The dog trainer saw potential.

“When I first met Clancy at the St. Paul Police Canine Training Center, I was struck by how big he was and how strong he looked. I questioned whether I’d be able to handle him,” Carol Hubbard recalled. “The trainer said he was ‘rough around the edges’ but he had all the traits they look for in a detector dog.” Hubbard was Clancy’s working partner, trainer and handler for the nine years that he worked at the MPCA.

Hubbard worked with Officers Steve Johnson and Mark Ficcadenti as they learned that the same techniques they used to train drug- and bomb-detecting dogs could be used to train Clancy to find mercury.

Mercury easily volatilizes into unhealthy vapors that humans cannot see, smell or taste. Eighty percent of the mercury vapor that a person inhales can enter the bloodstream. Once there, mercury can get into the brain and harm the nervous system.

To ensure Clancy’s safety, he was tested regularly by a veterinarian to assure that his blood mercury remained at a safe level. Throughout his work life, his mercury levels were below detection and he never displayed symptoms of neurologic damage.

Clancy was trained as a passive-indicating dog, which means he would sit and stay when he smelled mercury. Hubbard discovered this behavior had another benefit: since mercury and its vapor are heavy, the vapor stays low, and once Clancy smelled mercury he sat, taking his nose out of the mercury-vapor zone.

During his nine-year tenure at the MPCA, Clancy’s ability to capture and hold students’ and teachers’ attention was valuable in efforts to educate Minnesota youth and school faculty about the dangers of mercury. Throughout Clancy’s career, he and Hubbard visited 330 schools and helped remove more than 2,000 pounds of mercury from them.

In 2007 the Minnesota Legislature banned mercury in schools. Thanks, in part, to Hubbard and Clancy’s work -- a job well done.

Clancy retired from service in 2009, yet he never lost his energy and dogged playfulness.

“He was a great dog and the best work partner anyone could ask for.,” Hubbard said. “He will be sorely missed by me, my family and many of the people he met and helped throughout Minnesota.”

This article was submitted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.