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Saving the Planet One Dog at a Time
The education of a conservation dog team
Rebecca Ross with Tank (left) and Riley.

Dogs assisting biologists and conservationists around the world in the never-ending effort to protect and save the planet we humans abuse and call home at the same time—almost sounds like a sci-fi movie doesn’t it?

If you love dogs, odds are you love or at least appreciate the natural world. It is no secret that protecting the environment is extremely important. We all impact the environment every day, whether by driving gas-powered vehicles, writing on paper that came from trees, leaving our lights on in our house—you get the idea. None of us are innocent bystanders, but we can all be proactive by lessening our impact and/or getting directly involved in protecting the environment.

I chose both from an early age. Like many little girls, I loved animals and my passion never wavered. I have made a career out of it—working as a wildlife biologist, a wildlife rehabilitator and a zoo manager. I have worked and lived in the United States and South Africa, where I met my future husband, a fellow conservationist, Mike.

My love of wildlife has always had one strong competitor… a love for dogs. My current household consists of four dogs. Two sweet, geriatric Pointers that Mike had when we met, and my two “boys,” former Bark cover dog, Golden Retriever Riley and his hilarious sidekick Tank the Frenchie. Dog training has always been a fun hobby. However, in recent years as my career in wildlife was sidelined so I could be a fulltime mom to now four-year-old daughter Camryn, I got involved with dog training more seriously and started attending conferences and training seminars.

It was at one of these seminars in early 2011 that I heard the wonderful Ken Ramirez speak about the use of dogs in wildlife conservation efforts. He spoke of dogs finding sea turtle nests, detecting orca poop in the ocean, locating invasive plants and illegal caches of ivory, and on and on.

Rebecca Ross with tiger cub, zebra and giraffe in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

What was this? Did I hear him right? My two passions joined together? I did hear him right, and during 2011, as we were living and traveling throughout southern Africa, I took the opportunity to learn more and interview fellow wildlife conservationists to see if dogs really were a resource they could use.

The answer was a resounding yes. Fast-forward a year and a half later: Dogs for Conservation is now following in the footsteps of only a few pioneering people and organizations that specifically train dogs for conservation work.

In only a few short days, I am flying to Florida to pick up a Golden Retriever puppy, donated to us by a kindhearted and supportive person. He comes from an impressive line of hunting, search and rescue, disaster and cadaver dogs.

Over the coming months, I will blog about the special training for our first Conservation Dog and special projects. I will also write about my travels to increase my own knowledge and training, including a trip to Namibia to visit with the scat-detection dogs and livestock guardian dogs at the Cheetah Conservation Fund as well as several seminars for human remains detection dogs and disaster dogs.

Come along for the ride, I can’t wait to introduce you to the first paid employee of Dogs for Conservation. (Paid in tennis balls and treats of course!)

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Rebecca Ross is a wildlife biologist, wildlife rehabilitator, dog trainer and zoo manager based in Brenham, Tex. She shares her life with four-year-old daughter Camryn, four dogs, four rabbits, twenty-something chickens and a husband who can usually be somewhere in the skies over southern Africa. Rebecca writes a monthly blog for The Bark about training her first conservation dog, Ranger.

Photos by Mike Ross.

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