Whether they’re sniffing out improvised explosive devices, chasing bad guys, or guiding the physically or mentally handicapped through day-to-day life, dogs have proven to be an invaluable asset to our police, military, veterans, and everyday citizens. Here at Townhall we’ve always found it important to recognize the work our four-legged friends and their handlers do to serve our nation, which far too often goes overlooked.
However, canines are also serving in roles that we don’t traditionally associate them with; namely, conservation efforts.
Thanks to their noses, which can sniff out odor concentrations as small as one to two parts per billion, canines can be trained to find invasive species to eradicate, to detect hard-to-find plants and wildlife, and to discover threats to both, such as poison and illegal snares.
But being a conservation detection dog requires more than a keen sense of smell. The best dogs for this work are extremely high-energy and toy obsessed—oftentimes the ones that wind up in shelters across the nation.
Now, however, because of a new partnership between Working Dogs for Conservation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, these dogs are being actively sought out across the country through a new program, Rescues 2the Rescue.
The program’s goal is to “place high-energy dogs in careers and homes that complement their vitality,” a statement from the program reads. “The program provides a platform for shelters and conservation detection dog organizations and trainers to connect and communicate, as well as standardized evaluation tools for assessing a canine’s potential to be a working dog.”
And while these may seem like efforts that have little impact on the average American, Carson Barylak, campaigns officer for IFAW, told Townhall the program is helpful to society on multiple levels.
“Whether it’s a concern for protection of endangered species in the wild … to tiny endangered plants around the world, or whether you care about animals—puppies—being happy … and think about your own dog, there are advantages from all perspectives in this program,” she said. “It’s great for shelters, it’s great for conservation, it’s great for the dogs, and of course, the working dogs groups that are looking to raise more awareness.”
And to get a sneak peak at the kind of impact these canines are having, one need look no further than the program’s website to see success stories like Wicket’s:
Wicket was 12 months old and had been at the shelter for 6 months. Her history was unknown. She had recently been spayed by a shelter “angel” hoping to make her more appealing for adoption. But it’s often very difficult to find a home for a dog who constantly whines and barks, and literally bounces of the walls of her kennel.
But something about her “brand” of bounce made me offer her a tennis ball through the front of her kennel. She was captivated. Her eyes never left the ball. Out in the exercise yard I was impressed by her eagerness for the ball and how she problem-solved until she could possess it again. I told the shelter worker that I wanted to try her out for a career as a conservation detection dog. “That one?!” the worker asked, incredulous. “But, that one’s crazy!”
Turns out, she was the right kind of “crazy”. That was almost 10 years ago. Wicket completed training blindingly fast, and was working in the mountains west of Yellowstone Park just a few months later sniffing out scat of wolves and grizzly bears. By now she has worked in 7 countries and 14 states, and knows how to sniff out over 25 different species of plants, live endangered animals, live unwanted pests, and scats. She is one of the stars of Working Dogs for Conservation.
“Our goal is to stem the tide of unadopted pets in US shelters and create rich and rewarding lives for canine partners,” Pete Coppolillo, WDC’s executive director, said in a statement. “Working with IFAW, we can have a much larger impact on shelter populations, particularly those unadopted dogs with the potential to save themselves by leveraging their characteristics to start a new, productive life saving wildlife.”