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High-energy dogs find careers in conservation

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Ina Fassbender/Reuters

(Read caption) A sniffer dog searches luggage as travelers wait in line for customs inspection at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany. Dogs are also being used to sniff out poisons, locate illegal ivory and bushmeat, and point out invasive plant species through a new partnership called Rescues 2the Rescue.

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While dogs wind up in animal shelters for a whole host of reasons, some high-energy pooches have difficulty being adopted.

But what if those dogs could find a job that would match the intensity of their personalities?

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A new partnership between the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Working Dogs for Conservation has set out to help improve the adoptability of these dogs through pairing them with jobs that could benefit from their spunk, and contribute to conservation efforts at the same time.

“That is what made this project – it is really at the interface of conservation and animal welfare,” says Carson Barylak, campaigns officer for IFAW, an organization with the mission of saving animals in crisis throughout the world. “And those are our two areas of emphasis.”

Rescues 2the Rescue has focused on what it describes as "an overabundance of high-energy, toy-obsessed dogs" in shelters, with qualities that often limit their appeal as household pets.

But when trained for a career in detection, the animals can thrive.

“Conservationists and researchers in the field have long relied on working dogs to preserve wildlife and collect crucial data for conservation efforts,” Ms. Barylak says. “We are thrilled to partner with Working Dogs for Conservation to rescue dogs who will be invaluable partners in saving wildlife.”

The Washington, D.C.-based partnership, roughly a year in the making, has created a platform for shelters and conservation-detection dog trainers to network and communicate. It has also devised a standardi evaluation process to assess the ability of a canine to serve as a working dog.

“Our goal is to stem the tide of unadopted pets in US shelters and create rich and rewarding lives for canine partners,” says Pete Coppolillo, executive director of Working Dogs for Conservation, a global organization that seeks to use canine data collection to advance conservation efforts. “Working with IFAW, we can have a much larger impact on shelter populations," particularly on unadopted dogs who might save themselves by showing their ability to help save wildlife.

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Hard-to-adopt dogs can often be the best candidates for conservation work, Barylak says.

“The dogs that are best-suited to be working dogs in conservation are the ones that are very difficult for shelters to adopt out because of their high energy level and their sort of obsessive [attitude] about toys,” she explains.

With the proper training, these dogs can help locate difficult-to-find wildlife and plants, identify threats to wildlife like snares and poisons, locate illegal ivory and bushmeat, and point out invasive plant species. They can also help scientists gather data.

The role of canines in conservation efforts is far from new.

However, “Our emphasis on [rescued dogs] is pretty distinctive,” Barylak says, noting that it opens up a partnership with animal shelters, and even connects adoptable dogs with clients like governmental agencies. “We really have sort of an endless number of partners in this.”

Certain abilities of canines cannot be replicated by humans or by technology, making them a valuable resource.

Barylak spends much of her time working with animal shelters, telling them about the partnership and encouraging their participation. For many shelters, the thought of giving an otherwise unadoptable dog a chance at happiness is compelling.

And that is where a great deal of Barylak's motivation comes from.

“I certainly think that animals in shelters have a great deal to give,” she says, noting in particular the affection, love, and companionship they express. It's worth giving these hard-to-place dogs a second chance, she says, instead of " living out their lives in shelters … or being euthanized.

“I hope we are saving lives, both of dogs and wildlife,” she says.

• To learn more about Rescues 2the Rescue, please visit Rescues2theRescue.org.


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