What do you get when you combine toy-obsessed, high-energy dogs stuck in shelters with tenacious, patient handlers who train dogs in scent detection?
Super-star rescue dogs who help biologists study and protect endangered species and habitats!
Conservation Canines, a program of University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, adopts dogs who have little to no chance of finding a forever home with a family. The dogs have endless energy and one-track minds. These traits make them impossible as pets, but ideal for working as scat detection dogs.
A Conservation Canine and his or her handler work together to locate data to aid wildlife biologists. The dogs are trained in scent detection for over three dozen species, from orca whale scat to endangered spotted owl pellets. From caribou in Canada to dholes in Cambodia, the dogs have proven themselves to be an invaluable asset to biology projects around the world.
Conservation Canines accomplishes several admirable goals simultaneously. It rescues difficult-to-home shelter dogs, provides them with an outlet for their energy and drive to work, and helps biologists study and protect wildlife species and habitats at risk.
The program is entirely dependent on grants and donations to keep the lights on. That is why I have teamed up with this nonprofit in a creative effort to tell the stories of their working dogs through photos.
Your help goes a long way in turning these misfit dogs into superheroes for science.
This year, I am left with a craving to spend more time in the field with my favorite detection dogs!
I was excited and happy to have one outing in the field this spring, bouncing around sand dunes with two handlers and three dogs during their work on the coast of Oregon. I also scored another few days at Pack Forest – the program’s home base – with three more handlers and a sizable number of the dogs still off duty at the very start of the field season.
We had a wonderful time running dogs through exercises to photograph what their training process looks like, we managed to line up a gaggle of energetic dogs for a couple epic group shots, and we built a camp fire for Chester, who starts our calendar’s narrative out as Mr. January.
Between these images and sorting through images from past years, building the design of this year’s calendar was wonderful. The calendar tells the story of the dogs from when they join the program to retirement, including a glimpse into training, field time, and extracurricular work.
Supporters who score this year’s calendar get not only adorable dogs on their wall all year long, but also information about how the program works and how well suited this work is for these rambunctious, talented dogs. We’re all happy with our latest creation — and I’m excited to start shooting for next year!
Conservation Canines’ Alli was highlighted in a National Geographic Book titled “LOYAL: 38 Inspiring Tales of Bravery, Heroism, and Devotion of Dogs“
Science Daily published results from a multi-year study about the health of southern resident orcas in which Conservation Canines has played a leading role.
This year brought a lot of fun moments in the field with the Conservation Canines team. It started out with several days in early spring when I hiked with teams in the field on their predator study in northeastern Washington. Following that, I got to take a peek in the laboratory at University of Washington, where all the scientific analysis of the thousands of samples collected by the dog-handler teams takes place.
Later in the spring, I spent a few days at the training facility in Eatonville taking portraits of the dogs for the annual calendar fundraiser. I finally got to spend time with new recruits Athena and Filson as well as cuddle up with some long-time four-legged friends.
Photos from this year’s work with the program will be featured in National Wildlife Magazine in the February-March 2018 issue.
This was fun and event-filled year for my work with the Conservation Canines team. I was lucky enough to get into the field with teams working all over the country.
I followed teams working in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains for a Pacific Fisher study; New York’s Adirondack range on a moose study; northeast New York area searching wind farms for birds and bats, and the San Juan Islands for their resident orca research.
I went into the classroom with Julianne Ubigau and CK9s Sampson and Casey as they educated second-grade students about working dogs, scat, science and conservation through engaging hands-on activities.
The job of a Conservation Canines handler is anything but easy, yet the passion both these rescued “misfit” dogs and dedicated humans have for what they do is contagious. I was lucky to have so much time with the teams, and yet I still only photographed a tiny piece of what they accomplish across the continent and across the globe.
I hightlighted my time in the field with the Conservation Canines team on my blog
During our calendar drive, the program was featured on Pretty Fluffy
The program was featured in Sierra Magazine
During 2015, I was lucky enough to head out into the field with Conservation Canines teams as they searched for scat on a predator study in northeastern Washington. I also visited their training facilities in Pack Forest, south of Seattle. Images of the dogs from these visits became a press-printed 2016 calendar, which was the center of the very first annual calendar fundraiser.
The fundraiser was a wonderful success, with supporters writing in throughout the year to express how much they enjoy seeing the dogs on their wall each month. Because of the success, we dove straight in to plans and photo shoots for a 2017 calendar.
Meeting the people and dogs behind this program was an honor, and I knew this was just the start of a long friendship!