Can a dog help save the whales?
If you read the New York Times, are a fan of Wayward Dogs on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you have probably already encountered the story of Tucker, the onetime stray black lab mix who now spends his days sniffing out Orca scat from the deck of a boat off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington.
By leading scientists to this obscure excrement, Tucker helps them monitor the health of the whales and understand where they go when they’re not in the San Juan area.
I can’t believe this dog is for real.
According to the story, Tucker is the only dog in the world currently trained and working to detect the scent of whale droppings in the open ocean, but he’s not the only dog sniffing out endangered species poop for science.
Since 1997, the non-profit, Washington-based organization Conservation Canines has been training dogs to trackers of endangered whales, bears, owls, elephants, caribou, pumas, jaguars, giant anteaters and even mice.
Studying the scat is a non-invasive way for scientists to learn a whole lot about the animals, including their sex, species, nutritional status and reproductive health. In the case of the orcas, the presence of the chemicals like DDT and dioxin in the scat suggests in what other waters the animals may have been swimming.
We humans are killing off the rest of the planet at an alarming rate.
Something like 200 plant and animal species die off each day, mostly as a result of human impact.
Like our own, the world dog population is more of an overpopulation. Just ask shelters and rescue groups. When they’re free-roaming or feral, dogs can pose a threat to wildlife, as well.
As a person who cares deeply about the environment – and is a crazy dog lady – these are things I think about a lot. In fact, I often feel a bit guilty about the time and energy I put into dog advocacy, compared with what I do about the plight of threatened wild things.
What if at the end of the world, it’s just us and dogs? Would that be worth it?
Discovering the Conservation Canines organization was huge for me yesterday. This is an area where domestic animal rescue and environmentalism can come together. Humans can work with dogs to help in the fight to save other species.
Almost all of the Conservation Canines are rescue dogs or owner surrenders. Tucker came from the streets of Seattle.
According to the group’s website, the dogs that make great trackers often don’t make great family pets. They’re too hyper and too single-minded.
The dog now in training to do what Tucker does is a flat-coated retriever who was so obsessed with her ball that when her former owner placed it atop a refrigerator, she sat and stared at the ball for eight hours.
If only the rest of us could apply that level of determination to protecting the planet…