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Dog Helps Save Sea Turtles
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At a freshly emptied turtle nest, Ridley’s attention was directed toward its pungent scents of hatchling turtles; leftover egg fluid; and remnants of the mother turtle’s lubricating mucus, which coats the eggs as they’re laid. Ridley soaked it up into his Cairn “hard drive,” and after he got a nose full, Shaver and Kurtz filled the empty nest with sand, walked him down the beach for about a half-hour, and then told him to “go find the nest.” Time after time, Ridley raced back to the exact site. Within about 10 weeks, he was ready to begin the real work of finding the few but critical “invisible nests” the Gulf wind had hidden.

Now, he is brought to the beach several times each year to find nests at track sites where humans have been unsuccessful, his Scottish Highland nose sniffing for the faintest scent of turtle eggs, with Shaver or Kurtz in hot pursuit. When he finds a nest, Ridley digs slightly, careful not to damage the eggs. Successful, he sits back and waits for his treat. “I actually think Ridley understands just how important what he’s doing is; he gets so excited when he finds a nest, even before he gets his reward,” says Shaver.

He’s been doing this work for a season and a half now, and this summer, expectations are high that he’ll be finding even more eggs. An extensive search-and-rescue operation began in April this year, and later this summer, as the baby turtles hatch, Ridley will be there watching, along with the television cameras and the crowds of squealing children who crowd the beach off Corpus Christi 10 to 20 mornings each year to see this miracle of regeneration. Ridley Shaver—in a role the 17th-century Scottish Highlanders who developed the breed could not have envisioned—not only lends a paw but most importantly, a nose to this environmental success story.   

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 54: May/Jun 2009
Andrew N. Guthrie, a former NBC News and Voice of America correspondent, has written several stories on sea turtles for VOA; he lives in Reston, Va., with his Katrina rescue dog, Lou.

Photographs courtesy of the National Park Service

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