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Giving rescue dogs a new purpose traveling around the world

Monday, December 3, 2018 - 13:15

*All photographs by Jaymi Heimbuch

In the UW's Conservation Canines program, rescue dogs find a home and a purpose in tracking wildlife scat for science. Photographer Jaymi Heimbuch runs, sniffs and rolls in the dirt to highlight how the four-legged detectives explore their world.

Many shelter dogs spend their days sniffing out poop — but few find homes, purpose, cult followings, and calendar modeling opportunities because of it. 

Enter Conservation Canines: In 1997, University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology director Dr. Sam Wasser developed a program that adapts police dog detection techniques for conservation science — namely, training dogs to track down the scat of endangered and threatened wildlife species. 

Since then, a rotating cast of 17 lucky dogs has spent their days in Washington's 4,300-acre Pack Forest with nine handlers. Conservation Canines (CC) looks for dogs with tireless energy and a need for stimulation — traits that prevented them from finding homes, but which makes them ideal scent detectives. They are taught to approach scent detection as a game, where they are rewarded for learning how to track the scents of dozens of species' feces.

The work is important: Scat samples provide significantly more data than hair snares, camera traps, and other animal-monitoring services. Photos, for instance, show only an animal's presence and movements. Scat can also reveal information about its diet and overall health. And by using non-invasive dog tracking to do this, scientists can explore human impacts on animal populations over large swaths of land with minimal interference.

Read the full, original article on Crosscut.

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