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Energetic Shelter Dogs Get Second Chance in Wildlife Conservation Jobs

Saturday July 25, 2015    9:56 AM

For these pooches, their "wild" lifestyle could actually help save wildlife.

Shelter dogs with high-energy can sometimes be less adoptable than their more docile counterparts, but a program based in Washington, DC, has found a way to save them by putting their unique traits to good use.

By partnering with Working Dogs for Conservation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Rescues 2 the Rescue trains high-energy dogs to do scent-related jobs that support conservation work.

Trainers say the toy-obsessed, spirited pooches tend to thrive when trained to help locate difficult-to-find wildlife and plants, and can also help identify threats like poisons, and sniff out invasive plant species, which helps preserve wildlife.

Ultimately, Rescues 2 the Rescue hopes this will also improve their "adoptability."

"I certainly think that animals in shelters have a great deal to give," Carson Barylak, campaigns officer for IFAW, told the CS Monitor. "I hope we are saving lives, both of dogs and wildlife."

"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.

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.

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