(DOGS) — Dogs are our best friends, aid military troops, and work in murder trials. They also help protect our ecosystem. Not only do they help our conservation efforts, dogs sometimes lead sustainability initiatives, as they can perform many tasks that we are incapable of performing. Read on to learn about three unique dog-dependent roles in saving the world, brought to you by Conservation Canines. — Global Animal

Tucker, a black Labrador mix, is trained to help protect endangered animals. Photo Credit: Shelley Bueche

Paw Nation, Shelley Bueche

There are many programs involving dogs and the environment occurring in the world today. The following examples highlight a few ways to dogs are helping safeguard the planet.

Conservation Canines, a program with the University of Washington is led by Dr. Samuel Wasser. Wasser developed the first scat detection dog program in 1997. Tucker, a black Labrador mix with the program and other rescue dogs, are trained to sniff for fecal samples of threatened and endangered animal species worldwide as tigers, giant anteaters, killer whales, spotted owls, bears, jaguars and the Pacific Pocket mouse. Samples obtained by the teams yield information that reveals critical facts about dwindling species, including details on species abundance, distribution, resource use, and overall physiological species health. “Dogs greatly increase accessibility of these corroborative measures, providing powerful tools to partition the multitude of human impacts on wildlife,” Wasser explains.

Environmental Canine Services (ECS) is a program in Michigan, training rescue dogs to detect illicit water discharge. “Our dogs provide a low-tech solution to a huge problem-storm water pollution caused by contaminants like detergent and sewage,” explains Scott Reynolds, founder of ECS. Sable, a German shepherd mix, is joined by two more canines, Logan and Sky, plus a small team of handlers to work in densely-packed urban or rural environments. The environmental teams are able to move into an area and efficiently conduct a number of tests thereby eliminating the need for expensive and cumbersome tests as whether or not a fecal sample is human or canine–Sable and the other sewage sniffers know the difference immediately!

Dr. Donna Shaver, wildlife biologist with the National Parks Service and her trained Cairn terrier, Ridley, hunt for elusive nests of the highly endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle on Padre Island seashore. The pristine beach is located at the southern tip of Texas and the Kemp’s ridley nesting season runs from April through July. The turtle eggs are difficult to spot and are often covered in sand, but Ridley has been trained to recognize the distinctive scent of the mucous covering coating the fragile eggs.

“Ridley helps find nests that humans are unable to locate after hours of searching” explains Dr. Shaver, “Thanks to his work, hundreds of eggs have been found, protected and hatched.” Due to efforts of Dr. Shaver, Ridley and a dedicated crew of volunteers, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are on the rise once again!

Big furry Maremma sheepdogs are protecting tiny blue Fairy penguins on Middle Island in Australia. The penguins eat fish, squid and krill during the day and overnight return to their nest to burrow in for the evening. Thousands of tourists visit this island in Australia just to witness the unique penguin parade. But when the penguins began falling victim to foxes and wild dogs, local farmer Swampy, took the matter into his own hands by recruiting two Maremma sheepdogs, Eudy and Tula, to protect the ‘little blues.’ The sheepdogs were such a hit that the idea of adopting Maremma sheepdogs has been officially incorporated by the Warrnabool City Council.

“I must admit that I was very skeptical,” admits graduate student Amanda Peucker, “luckily I was wrong! The Maremmas worked, they deterred the foxes.” The program is garnering headlines around the world and several governmental agencies want to duplicate the program in their community.

Believe it or not, quagga and zebra mussels are becoming more than a mere nuisance in California, the spread of these invasive species has cost the state million of dollars in lost revenue and more than a few headaches for boaters. After realizing just how pervasive these non-native aquatic species were becoming, Warden Lynette Shimek, supervisor of the K-9 program with the California Fish & Game Department, began training the department’s police service canines for invasive species detection work. Once the dogs alert to the possible presence of zuagga and/or zebra mussels, they will sit and their handler then seals off the boat for future decontamination.

So the next time you think of dogs as Man’s Best Friend, remember that there are some working dogs in the field helping to preserve the planet with the power of green paws.