Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peat’s Sake: Working Wetland Dogs

For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Today I was able to bring my dog, Alice, in to the office with me. She’s a rescue dog that was found as a stray after Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas. She traveled up to New Hampshire in a box truck about 7 years ago where we picked her up and brought her to her new forever home in Maine. She was a mess when she arrived. She was undernourished and incredibly fearful. She had multiple health issues, most alicein2009likely a result of being surrounded by environmental contaminants after the hurricane, as well as a partially healed broken paw that could not be fixed. As a result, she is on many medications and will be her whole life. If we had not adopted her I am most certain she would have been put down.

Today, although she still suffers from food allergies and arthritis in her injured paw, she is remarkably healthy and happy. She loves to bark at the mailman and sit in her back yard, enjoying the sun and the fresh breeze. And she loves being with her family, as most dogs do, and snuggling up with us on the couch to watch movies. But she gets bored and I alicetoday1often wish I had found some kind of rewarding work for her to do. She thought coming to work with me today might fulfill that need in her soul – sadly she realized today that when I leave the house for work I sit at a computer all day. No hiking, no ball chasing (okay just a little during a quick break at work), no walks on the beach and no squirrel chasing. B-O-R-I-N-G. But it still beats staying home at the house all by herself.

She inspired me today, however, to write about dogs and wetlands. Recently as I was compiling news stories for work, I stumbled across an article titled “Dogs May Be Our Best Conservation Aids.”  It’s a wonderful story about how rescue dogs are now finding rewarding jobs in the conservation field. It was something I had never really considered, but when I thought about it, it made total sense – what a great idea! People are using rescue dogs to track scents emitted from invasive plants in cargo and luggage and to find alien flora and fauna in the field. They are also helping to track the scat of endangered species such as the Jemez Mountains salamander. And they’re a heck of a deal for cash strapped agencies and non-profits. All they ask for in return is a good meal, a warm and safe home, and love and attention.

femadogDogs have long been used to search for contraband, explosives, forensic evidence and for search and rescue operations. So it’s really not a stretch at all to start using them in the conservation field. Dogs have amazing olfactory skills and their cute fuzzy snouts “contain as many as 220 million olfactory receptor cells, compared to roughly 5 million receptors in the human nose.” Clearly they are highly qualified for employment. Just think about all the possibilities for invasive species management in wetlands!

I was very excited to find a website for a non-profit organization call Working Dogs for Conservation that rescues shelter dogs, trains them, and then employs them to collect data and find conservation targets. Founded in 2000, they now have 18 dogs working for them on projects in North America, Africa, Asia and beyond.  And the typical temperament of dog that they are looking for is one which most shelters will call “crazy and unadoptable.” They are generally high energy dogs that exhibit behaviors of extreme focus and obsession.

alicehardatworkUnfortunately for Alice, although she is a bit “crazy” – most likely from the Labrador retriever in her – the Great Pyrenees in her dominates her personality and she’s mostly a big slug. So not very employable in a field that looks for high energy canines. We’ve considered training her to be a therapy dog to take to nursing homes or hospitals, but she is such a slug that the minute you start petting her she melts into a pile of white fluffiness on the ground – not good for folks with physical limitations or who are confined to a hospital bed. So Alice’s options are limited. For now she will have to accept her employment as guardian of the house and family. But for Peat’s Sake, if you are working in the field of invasive species management, consider adopting a shelter dog that can be trained to help you out. The benefits most certainly exceed the amazing results of their work.

This entry was posted in conservation, endangered species, invasive species, resource management, wetland conservation, wetland management. Bookmark the permalink.

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