Detection Dogs Hot on the Trail of Conservation - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Detection Dogs Hot on the Trail of Conservation

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MISSOULA - Six-year-old yellow lab Lily bounced between a Georgia shelter and five different homes before she landed in Montana and a career in conservation.

"She was just way too much dog, way too energetic and hard to live with," says Lily's handler, Aimee Hurt.

"She's been working with us for three years and she knows about half a dozen different targets. She's worked in Montana, Alberta, Arctic Alaska and even Cameroon in West Africa."

Lily is one of eight dogs employed with Working Dogs for Conservation, a Missoula-based non-profit that partners super energetic dogs with wildlife biologists, like Hurt, to sniff out everything from zebra and quaga mussels clinging to boats in Montana, to the very endangered cross-river gorillas of Cameroon.

Hurt, the co-founder of Working Dogs, says dogs like Lily are 1 or 2 in 1,000.

"They're very, very motivated by their toy, they want that thing bouncing off the walls, they love to search, really buys, intense, high energy dogs. These can be way too much dog for a pet household or dogs that languish in shelters for a long time, because they can't find a regular pet home."

Working Dogs for Conservation gave a demonstration Friday, of how trained dogs can sniff out invasive mussels hiding on boats, in the fraction of the time it would take a human to comb over the same watercraft.

"We recently did a test in Alberta and the test showed, based on our preliminary results, that the dogs took about half the time of an inspector working on his/her own to detect mussels and the dogs were 100% accurate, they didn't miss one foul boat," Caryn Miske, with the Flathead Basin Commission, said.

"This would really increase the robustness of our efforts if we could have dogs working at check stations with inspectors hand in hand."

While the Flathead Basin Commission and handlers hope the dogs will soon be regulars at check stations across the state, they already play a key role in Montana mountain ranges helping biologists find invasive species.

"It's so gratifying for us to work with these dogs. They're a really important part of our lives," Dr. Ngaio Richards, Canine Field Specialist, said.

"As a wildlife biologist, I can never go back to the scenario of I'm just searching on my own. And, to know with the shelter dogs especially, to know that they could have been euthanized or not even euthanized, their potential could have been untapped, but now they have a new lease on life and are working to make the world a better place for wildlife and ourselves," said Hurt.

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