Archive for the ‘Animals with Jobs’ Category

Korean War vets honor hero horse

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Korean War Horse

Sgt. Joseph Latham, of the 5th Marine Division’s recoilless rifle platoon, trained Reckless during the Korean War. He also fed her scrambled eggs. Coca-Cola and occasionally whiskey in addition to her diet of barley, sorghum, hay and rice straw. On cold nights, Latham let Reckless into his tent to sleep next to the stove.

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Goats groom airport grounds while helping endangered species

Monday, July 15th, 2013
goatFor the past five years, San Francisco International Airport has brought in goats to clear brush near a runway to prevent fires and protect nearby homes. It’s an eco-friendly plan not only because machinery is not needed, but also because it allows the clearing to proceed without disturbing two endangered species. Goats R Us supplies some 400 goats as well as a herder and a border collie to keep them in line, and the crew takes about two weeks to clear the area. The Huffington Post/The Associated Press (7/5)

Passengers flying out of San Francisco International Airport recently might have caught a glimpse of something bizarre: goats munching away at overgrown weeds.Mr. Fuzzy, Cookie, Mable, Alice and nearly 400 other goats were chomping on brush as part of the airport’s unique – and environmentally friendly – approach to fire prevention.Airports are mini cities, often with their own firefighters, baristas, doctors and even priests.But goat herders?Brush in a remote corner of the airport property needs to be cleared each spring to protect nearby homes from potential fires. But machines or humans can’t be used because two endangered species – the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog – live there.So for the past five years, the airport has turned to Goats R Us, which charged $14,900 for the service this year.”When passengers takeoff and fly over the goats, I’m sure that’s a thrill,” said Terri Oyarzun, who owns and runs the goat-powered brush removal company with her husband Egon and their son Zephyr.The goats travel 30 miles each spring from their home in Orinda, Calif. to the airport in a 16-wheel truck that Oyarzun calls her “livestock limo.” With the help of a goat herder and a Border Collie named Toddy Lynn, the goats spend two weeks cutting away a 20-foot firebreak on the west side of the airport.When Oyarzun’s goats aren’t clearing brush at the airport, they are busy doing similar work on the side of California’s freeways, at state parks, under long-distance electric lines and anywhere else with overgrown vegetation. The family has about 4,000 total active goats.Working at an airport does come with its own set of challenges, namely loud, frightening jets constantly taking off.”There was an adjustment period,” Oyarzun said. “But they have a lot of confidence in their herder.”At least one other airport has taken note. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport has requested bids for goats to clear brush in a remote area of the airport’s 7,000-acre property and expects a here to be at the airport sometime this summer.When goats become too old to work, they are typically sold for meat. But fear not, Mr. Fuzzy, Cookie, Mable, Alice won’t end up at the slaughterhouse. The Oyarzun family lets its goats peacefully retire at its farm.At least one part of air travel is still humane.

Baseball team’s special canine bat boy dies of lymphoma

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Chase the Bat DogChase the golden retriever entertained fans of the Trenton Thunder, a New York Yankees affiliate in New Jersey, for years before his death from lymphoma on Monday. The team and fans threw Chase a retirement and birthday party last week, and last month he was honored at Yankee Stadium. Chase is succeeded by one of his offspring, Derby, who’ll carry on the family tradition of retrieving bats, carrying water bottles to umpires and catching discs in the outfield. The team posted a tribute to Chase on its website.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — He doggedly did his work, this pinstriped pooch who faithfully served minor leaguers of the New York Yankees while providing big league entertainment.

Chase, the bat-retrieving golden retriever for the Double-A Trenton Thunder who made highlight reels all across baseball for a decade, has died at 13.

“Chase was there a long time. He put a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who played in Trenton, said Tuesday night.

“You know it’s going to be sad, but his lineage is carried on. You know it’s something that people are going to miss, but it was fun to be around Chase,” he said.

Chase lived just long enough to be thrown a retirement party by the Thunder last Friday night — featuring Chase bobbleheads, no less. The team said he died Monday.

Chase had been diagnosed in February with a form of lymphoma and had arthritis.

The Thunder’s website Tuesday featured a photo of their late mascot with a bat in his mouth and the caption, “In Loving Memory, Chase That Golden Thunder.”

His bat-retrieving legacy will live on with his son Derby, who continues to be part of the Thunder’s home game entertainment. Another son, Ollie, performs with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Chase made his debut with the Thunder in 2002. He would trot out in the bottom of the first inning to the batter’s box to pick up bats with his mouth and bring them back to the dugout. He also carried a woven basket with bottles of chilled water to the umpires and entertained fans by running down flying discs in the outfield.

At Friday’s celebration, which coincided with his birthday party, fans were encouraged to bring their dogs to the game.

Last month, he was also honored on the field at Yankee Stadium. Chamberlain petted Chase before the game and infielder David Adams came over to greet his old friend.

Adams recalled Chase retrieving his bat, doing it without leaving teeth marks in the wood.

“He’s not chomping at the bit,” Adams said then. “Or at the bat, either.”

Dogs of all shapes and sizes were at Trenton’s game Friday night against Reading, sitting in the stands with their owners. As fans filed in, Chase lounged on the grass outside the Thunder’s dugout on the first-base side.

A tribute to Chase’s career was shown on the video board. Chase was in position near the bench when Eduardo Nunez — who has since rejoined the Yankees — led off for Trenton in the bottom of the first inning. After the at-bat, Chase trotted out, picked up Nunez’s bat and returned to the dugout to a big cheer from the crowd.

Research reveals dogs of the Americas

Friday, July 12th, 2013

sled-viewInuit sled dogs and other Alaskan breeds are the only dogs with American origins, according to new research. Although the original canine stock has been traced to Asia, there is evidence of dogs in the Americas dating to 10,000 years ago, before transoceanic travel brought Europeans and their dogs to the continent. “Nobody knows exactly what happened,” researcher Peter Savolainen said. “Most probably migrated together with the humans that entered America from Asia via the Bering Strait. These humans became today’s Indians and Inuits.” The canines became Inuit sled dogs, the Greenland dog and the Eskimo dog, according to the research.

Alaskan breeds — such as Inuit sled dogs, the Eskimo dog and the Greenland dog — are the only canines with actual American roots, according to DNA analysis. All of these pooches hail from the 49th state and nearby areas, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“They are all equally American,” co-author Peter Savolainen told Discovery News. “They originate from the indigenous Indian-American and Inuit dog populations, and have only marginally been mixed with European dogs in modern time.”

Savolainen, an associate professor at KTH-Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, explained the determination after tracing the origin of mitochondrial DNA lineages for several dog breeds suspected to be pre-Columbian, meaning before Europeans settled in the Americas. Dogs inherit their mitochondrial DNA from their mothers.

Alaska’s Denali National Park uses sled dogs to patrol its 6 million acres of Arctic terrain.Scientists widely agree that the original stock of all canines worldwide originated from Asia. This is similar to the widely agreed-upon view that all members of our species originated in Africa before some people left that continent.

“There was a single origin of the domestic dog somewhere in Eurasia,” Savolainen explained. “The exact place is still debated, but our previous studies strongly indicate the southern part of East Asia, basically southern China.”

The earliest archaeological evidence for dogs in the Americas dates to around 10,000 years ago, long before the dawn of transoceanic travel in the 15th century that saw the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans.

Most U.S. dogs today, however, have European origins. Golden retrievers, poodles and many more breeds fall into this category.

Inuit sled dogs, the Eskimo dog and the Greenland dog, though, show no European heritage in their genes. Like Native Americans, they were in the United States and nearby areas long before Europeans arrived.

“Nobody knows exactly what happened,” Savolainen said. “Most probably migrated together with the humans that entered America from Asia via the Bering Strait. These humans became today’s Indians and Inuits.”

“Our data shows dogs came in several migrations, at least one with the Indian-American ancestors and at least one with the Inuit ancestors,” he continued.

The result for Alaskan Malamutes was ambiguous, but these dogs appear to come from slightly different stock originating in Siberia, Japan, China and Indonesia. The Alaskan husky and the American Eskimo dog have a known origin from Siberian spitzes and European dogs.

The dogs with the most pre-Columbian Mexican heritage, according to the study, are the Chihuahua and Xolo (Mexican hairless dog).

The researchers additionally determined that a group of free-ranging dogs based in South Carolina and Georgia — known as Carolina Dogs — likely have an ancient Asian origin.

Carolina Dogs might have once been associated with a Native American tribe, the canine’s relatives turning feral once their humans disappeared.

“The reason might be that the human population keeping these dogs was wiped out when Europeans came,” Savolainen said.

Prior research by Sarah Brown of UC Davis and colleagues is consistent with the latest findings about the Inuit sled dog, Eskimo dog and Greenland dog. Brown and her team found “ancient DNA evidence for genetic continuity in arctic dogs.”

Scientists hope to use such DNA studies and other research on dogs to learn more about past human migrations. From at least 10,000 years onward, wherever migrating humans went, dogs often came too.

Veterinarians make sure D.C. working dogs are in shape

Friday, July 12th, 2013

police k9 dog insigniaVeterinarians at Fort Belvoir in Virginia have kept a keen eye on working dogs — including those that watch over airports, the White House, the Capitol and other locations — for two decades. Routine preventive care as well as treatment for health problems are some of the issues addressed by veterinarian Nancy Vincent-Johnson and her colleagues at the clinic.

By , for the Washington Post

The waiting room is comfortably cool, but the mood is slightly tense. That’s because the patients who seek treatment at this clinic on the grounds of Fort Belvoir are a breed apart from many who seek medical care on the base.

The giveaway?

 The dog-biscuit jar on the reception desk.

For more than 20 years, the squat, red brick building at Fort Belvoir is where the D.C. region’s law enforcement dogs — the ones who patrol airports, the Capitol, the White House and other high-profile locations — have been taken for care.

The region is home to one of the biggest concentrations of working dogs in the country, officials say. Canines from the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, Amtrak and the U.S. Capitol Police come here for their yearly checkups. The dogs are a variety of breeds — German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Belgian Malinois, even beagles.

“I have nothing but good things to say,’’ said Sgt. Kevin Murphy, who heads the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s K-9 Unit at Dulles International Airport. “They help keep our dogs healthy.”

During the swelter of Washington’s summer, clinic workers have traveled to Dulles to conduct special sessions on spotting heatstroke and exhaustion. During the winter, handlers may receive training on spotting frostbite and hypothermia.

Belvoir’s veterinarians, a mix of civilian and military personnel, understand the special needs of their patients. These working dogs may suffer from ailments not necessarily seen in their civilian counterparts. Sometimes it’s back trouble from all their leaping into trucks and cargo hatches. Their joints can suffer strain from the same jumping. Hip dysplasia — a condition caused by improperly formed hip joints — is another common ailment.

And like the jobs held by people, the dogs’ work can be stressful, with long hours and large crowds, said veterinarian Nancy Vincent-Johnson, a 21-year Army veteran who retired and rejoined the clinic as a civilian.

Take Igor, a 9-year-old German shepherd who works for the Capitol Police. Vincent-Johnson said she had squeezed Igor, whose specialty is explosives detection, in between appointments because he has been having intestinal issues. His weight is down, and his handler says Igor — Iggy to his intimates — is just not himself.

Vincent-Johnson strokes Igor’s rich black and brown coat as she examines him, feeling the area around his rib cage and gently lifting his impressively large paws. Igor stands patiently as she moves her stethoscope along his midsection and his handler summarizes the shepherd’s symptoms.

“Maybe the food he’s on is too rich,” Vincent-Johnson theorizes. She consults Igor’s chart and notes that blood work done during his previous visit indicated a Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to a type of anemia that brings on weakness and fatigue.

The poking and prodding complete, Igor settles on the floor and lets out a deep sigh.

The doctor prescribes special food for dogs with intestinal issues and a series of shots to help with the B12 deficiency.

There is now good news: Igor has put on weight — six pounds since his last visit — so the hope is that whatever is ailing him will soon be cured.

Igor’s handler leaves the office with a large bag of dog food and several bottles of medicine. Igor gets a doggie treat as a reward.

One room away, the doctor’s next patient waits with his handler, Inspector Alexandra Hassler. Upton is a TSA dog specializing in passenger screening and experienced in sniffing out explosives.

The 4-year-old black Labrador is here for the first of two physicals he’ll have this year. As part of that, Vincent-Johnson will run him through a full exam, testing his peripheral vision by waving her hands at the side of his head, eyeing his gait as he walks down the sidewalk and drawing blood for a full screening.

“His ears look good,” she says. Upton is an enthusiastic patient, eager to sniff and show approval by licking the doctor’s arm. His friskiness belies his status as one of the oldest of the TSA dogs working at Dulles. He’s also observant: Only a few minutes into the exam, he’s figured out that on the shelf that holds the jars of tongue depressors and cotton balls is one that holds crunchy treats. He can’t take his eyes off the shelf.

Vincent-Johnson says Upton is healthy. The one exception: his left back teeth. “He may need some dental work,” Vincent-Johnson tells Hassler.

Finally, Upton’s enthusiasm is rewarded. A treat flies through the air and disappears into his mouth.

Service dog helps young man with no limbs succeed

Friday, June 28th, 2013

assistance-dog=helps-man_20130627122543_320_240Brandon Scott was born without most of his four limbs due to a rare disease, but with the help of his service dog, Rona, he recently graduated from college and is planning a career in sports media or public relations. Rona was trained by Canine Companions for Independence and has been by Scott’s side since he applied for a dog as a sixth-grader. WISH-TV (Indianapolis) (6/27)

Updated: Thursday, 27 Jun 2013, 1:42 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 27 Jun 2013, 12:28 PM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Indianapolis resident Brandon Scott has a rare disease, but motivation and a K-9 friend helped him beat the odds.

Brandon was born missing most of his four limbs, Rona the dog acts as his hands. She carries things and picks things up for him.

He applied through Canine Companions for Independence in the sixth grade, so he could get used to working with helper.

When he left for Ball State, his parents were relieved that he had such a reliable partner by his side.

Rona gave him the ability to feel independent and made the transition to college much easier.

Now that Brandon has graduated, he says he wants to be on a sports talk radio show or work with public relations for an Indycar team.

He is even training for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Click here to learn more about Canine Companions for Independence.

 

Officers pay tribute to police dog with kidney failure

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

plymouth-dogPlymouth, Mass., police offered a moving tribute to one of their fellow officers, a German shepherd named Kaiser, last week. Kaiser was euthanized after an increasingly difficult battle with kidney disease. Members of the department lined the walkway of the Court Street Animal Hospital, saluting Kaiser as he walked in one last time. His partner, Officer Jamie Lebretton, on the Plymouth Police Working Dog Foundation Facebook page: “I will never forget you or our accomplishments. You made me a better person, a better handler, and a better cop. Till we meet again Kai. I love you and will miss you daily.” WBZ-TV (Boston) (5/31), The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) (6/1)

PLYMOUTH (CBS) — Plymouth Police gathered Friday to say goodbye to their friend and K-9 partner German Shepherd Kaiser.

On Wednesday, the Plymouth Police Working Dog Foundation announced that Kaiser was suffering from kidney failure and would be laid to rest on Friday.

Kaiser battled this disease with vigor and toughness like I have never seen before. Although, as of late, the disease has taken the upper hand forcing him out of his craft and ultimately out of this world,” Officer Jamie Lebretton wrote on the foundation’s Facebook page.

 Kaiser joined the force in 2011 after being donated to the police department by a local family. He worked primarily with Officer Lebretton.

Shortly before noon, officers gathered outside the Court Street Animal Hospital to salute Kaiser one last time.

He was laid to rest in the Angel View Pet Cemetery in Middleboro.

Afterward, Lebretton posted the following to his friend and partner on Facebook:

“RIP my boy. I could not have asked for a better partner or friend. May you rest easy and wait for me at that sacred bridge. I will be there my friend. I will be there. I will never forget you or our accomplishments. You made me a better person, a better handler, and a better cop. Till we meet again kai. I love you and will miss you daily.”

Marine, dog reunited in surprise ceremony

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

dog and marineDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — When Marine Sgt. Ross Gundlach served as a dog handler in Afghanistan, he told the yellow lab who was his constant companion that he’d look her up when he returned home.

“I promised her if we made it out of alive, I’d do whatever it took to find her,” Gundlach said.

On Friday, he made good on that vow with help from some sentimental state officials in Iowa who know how to pull off a surprise.

Since leaving active duty to take classes at the University of Wisconsin this summer, Gundlach, of Madison, Wis., had been seeking to adopt 4-year-old Casey.

The 25-year-old learned Casey had finished her military service and had been sent to the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office, where she was used to detect explosives.

Gundlach wrote to State Fire Marshal Director Ray Reynolds, explaining the connection he felt with the dog. He even has a tattoo on his right forearm depicting Casey with angel wings and a halo, sitting at the foot of a Marine.

“He’s been putting a case together for the last two months, sending me pictures … it just tugged on your heart,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds decided to arrange a surprise. First, he got in touch with the Iowa Elk’s Association, which agreed to donate $8,500 to buy another dog for the agency.

“We have a motto in our association that as long as there are veterans, the Elks will strive to help them,” Iowa Elks Association president Tom Maher said.

Then, Reynolds came up with a ruse to get Gundlach to Des Moines, telling Gundlach he needed to come to the state Capitol to plead his case in front of a “bureaucratic oversight committee.”

When Gundlach arrived with his parents, Reynolds told them the meeting had been delayed and invited them to join an Armed Services Day celebration in the rotunda. There, hundreds of law enforcement officers, military personnel and civilians were seated, keeping the secret — until they brought out Casey.

When Gundlach saw Casey, he put his head in his hands and cried. She licked his face, wagging her tail furiously.

“It was a total surprise,” he said. “I owe her. I’ll just try to give her the best life I can.”

His father, Glen Gundlach, seemed just as surprised.

“It’s unbelievable … the state of Iowa, I love ’em,” he said.

Gov. Terry Branstad officially retired Casey from active duty during Friday’s ceremony, thanking the dog for a “job well done.”

During the 150 missions they performed together, Gundlach said Casey never missed an explosive — she caught three before they could be detonated. He credits her for making it back home safely.

“I wouldn’t be here … any kids I ever had wouldn’t exist if Casey hadn’t been here,” he said.

Dogs learning to pick up cancer’s signature scent

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

dogs11The University of Pennsylvania and the Monell Chemical Senses Center are training three dogs to help detect compounds produced by ovarian cancer, providing a possible way to detect the disease in its earliest, most treatable stages. Early-stage ovarian cancer, which has a 90% survival rate, is difficult to detect, and later stages carry a worse prognosis and kill 14,000 U.S. women annually. The Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation is funding the research with an $80,000 grant. Philly.com (Philadelphia) (5/6)  Sam Wood, PHILLY.COM

In the battle against ovarian cancer, three puppies at the University of Pennsylvania will be on the front lines.

The pups – Ohlin and Thunder, both Labradors, and McBain, a Springer Spaniel – have been conscripted to lead the charge in a novel collaboration announced last week between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Center.

Ovarian cancer claims the lives of more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation. The new collaboration takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.

Turns out, each cancer has its own odor. And what better sensor is there to detect a faint scent than a dog’s nose?

Researchers at Penn and Monell recently received an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation to develop new ways of sniffing out gynecological malignancies.

Using man’s best friend to detect cancer isn’t new. Studies in California, Chicago and Europe in the last decade have employed trained canines to detect lung and breast cancer.

A group in Sweden had done some preliminary investigations with dogs and ovarian cancer, but the professor in charge is retiring and he was using his own personal dogs, said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.

“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” Otto said. “We haven’t done cancer work before.”

Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect in its early stages because its symptoms — constipation, weight gain, bloating, or more frequent urination — are easily confused with other ailments.

If it’s diagnosed early, though, ovarian cancer has a survival rate of 90 percent. Unfortunately, its often not detected until it is too late. An effective screening protocol doesn’t yet exist and a doctor’s sight and touch haven’t been enough to detect cases in its first stages.

Each cancer has its own signature scent, however. And even before ovarian cancer can be detected by current methods, it creates minute quantities of “odorants,” Otto said. A doctor’s nose isn’t nearly sensitive enough. But the odorants can be sensed by trained dogs.

In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients.

The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists working with nanotech – and the puppies at the Working Dog Center.

We’ve been training them since they’ve been 8-weeks old,” Otto said. “They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction.”

They already have experience with bomb sniffing and human remains detection. Cancer detection isn’t that much different, she said.

The dogs will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in containers they can’t access, but are vented so they can smell them.

“We’ll train them to alert us when they discover the samples of cancer patients,” Otto said.

When they distinguish the correct one, they’re rewarded with food or a toy.

“Some are very much into their ball,” Otto laughs. “We will do what makes the most sense for each dog and what makes the dog want to work.”

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @samwoodiii or samwood@phillynews.com.

Conservation dogs sniff out endangered animals

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Peppin DogBy Elizabeth Devitt edevitt@mercurynews.com

Megan Parker carries poop in her purse. At least she does when she’s working with her dog Pepin, who’s trained to track the scat of endangered wildlife.

Having the right scent on hand allows Parker to direct her dog during a search.

Parker and Pepin have helped conservation workers protect wildlife all over the world. With Pepin’s superior sense of smell, the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois has tracked everything from endangered kit foxes in the San Joaquin Valley to the perilously small population of Cross River gorillas in the mountains of Cameroon.

“Scat is a gold mine of information,” said Parker, one of four co-founders of Working Dogs for Conservation, a nonprofit group of six biologists who trained

Scientists can extract DNA — the genetic blueprints found in cells — from scat samples to check the sex of animals and learn who’s related to whom. Stool can also be used to evaluate diets, test hormone levels and check for diseases. By mapping areas where samples are found, an animal’s home range can also be determined. All that information helps conservationists keep tabs on endangered animals without having to hunt, trap or tag them.”People see and hear the world,” said Parker. “But dogs are really good at this because they smell the world.”

With samples of wolverine and cheetah scat from her stash, Parker recently demonstrated Pepin’s search skills. From the moment Parker fastened a bright orange service-dog vest on Pepin, the dog focused on finding his target scents. He sniffed relentlessly around a cavernous lecture hall and trotted briskly among 50 people seated in rows of chairs. In less than 10 minutes Pepin made his finds, alerting Parker by promptly sitting down and throwing her a hard stare.

Pepin is one of nine dogs on staff at Working Dogs for Conservation. A mix of breeds — retrievers, border collies and German shepherds — most of the dogs come from shelters where their high-maintenance traits made them great for detection training, but not so perfect for the easy life of a pet.

The dogs all live with their handlers. That close relationship is part of what makes their teamwork so successful, said Parker. In the field, the dogs work off-leash. So it’s critical to know the dog well enough to know whether he has truly found a target or is just testing the handler, she said.

With highly sensitive noses, dogs such as Pepin have proven they find samples quickly and more accurately than human-based methods, said Alice Whitelaw, another cofounder of the group. Reliability matters because testing scat samples from the wrong animals wastes time and money. Using dogs is also less costly than capturing and radio-collaring animals, which are intensive efforts in terms of manpower, money and handling the wild animals, she said. So far, the dogs have worked on 38 projects in 11 countries.

Scat isn’t the only thing these dogs can find. With scent-discrimination capabilities at least twice as good as those of people, the dogs have nosed out specific plant species — a critical skill on islands where one invasive species can wreak havoc on the rest of the ecosystem, said Whitelaw.

Pepin recently learned to sniff out snares. Poachers use small coils of wire to illegally trap lions and other animals for meat; an elephant can suffocate if a snare entraps their trunk. In two months, Parker and Pepin will travel

Megan Parker, director of research for Working Dogs for Conservation, gives the go-ahead to Pepin to hunt for wolverine scat at Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto, Calif. (LiPo Ching)

to Africa to see if they can find these traps faster than the wildlife workers — or the hapless animals.It takes about four weeks to train a dog on a particular scent. Pepin knows fifteen targets, ranging from invasive snails to endangered plant species and gorilla dung — and, now, snares. The handlers borrowed dog training techniques used for narcotics, bombs and body detection, and modified them for wildlife work. They train the dogs at least twice a week to keep up their scent skills, said Parker.

All the dogs work for play. Every time Pepin finds a target, Parker rewards him with an all-out game of tug with the dog’s favorite toy. Although a tug toy sounds like little reward for a lot of work, the psychology of dogs evolved to rely on people for social reward, said Brian Hare, co-author of “The Genius of Dogs.” If you take a dog with a natural instinct to search and add the bonus of being with humans while searching, you’ve got a powerful ally when a sense of smell is the best avenue to discovering what you are looking for.

Pepin and his canine colleagues aren’t the first dogs to work the wildlife conservation beat. In 1997, Sam Wasser, at the University of Washington, collaborated with Barbara Davenport, a former narcotics detection dog trainer, to assist conservation scientists by training scat-detection dogs. Davenport even taught a dog to follow the scent of whale poop from a boat deck. Now, several universities and private groups have trained dogs to aid wildlife research efforts.

This month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced four new four-legged hires — Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket — to nose out illegal wild animals and contraband, such as elephant tusks and rhino horns, coming across the borders.

“We need all the resources we can possibly muster to help wildlife,” said Georgeanne Wedergren, a zoo docent who watched Pepin work during a noontime presentation. “I’m so glad they save shelter dogs, too.”