Greg Freyberg is Ruffwear’s Brand Manager and among other things, he works closely with Ruffwear Ambassadors to ensure working dogs have the gear they need to perform their important jobs. Read on to learn about one of Greg’s recent adventures in Washington State with our Ambassadors, the Conservation Canines.
Ruffwear builds performance dog gear designed to last season after season in varied environments and we are fortunate to work with Ambassadors who test our products to their limits and exemplify the best in canine capabilities. These Ambassadors vary from avalanche rescue dogs and outdoor athletes to scat detecting conservation canines.
Conservation Canines is a non-profit conservation group that Ruffwear has selected for our Ambassador Program because of the amazing work that their dogs perform around the world, season after season. With their human researchers/handlers, the dogs perform non-invasive studies that provide research data for the protection and conservation of various threatened or endangered wildlife . The dogs accomplish this by leveraging their highly-developed sense of smell to detect the scat (feces) of the animals they are researching. By collecting the scat, researchers are able to gather important data without having to get close to their subjects, which can cause greater anxiety and environmental stress on the wildlife. The data obtained from the scat includes key genetic, physiological and dietary information.
This past September, I had the opportunity to join the Conservation Canines in the San Juan Islands for a day to observe their study of the Orcas in the area. Nestled between the state of Washington and British Columbia, six months out of the year, the San Juan Islands are home to the Southern Resident Killer Whales – a pod with 86 known members. These Southern Resident Killer Whales have been on a steady population decline since 1995 and Conservation Canines are hoping that their research can help identify the root cause of this decline to direct future marine regulations that could protect this delicate species.
After a flight from Bend, Oregon to Seattle, Washington and a quick drive to Anacortes, I boarded a ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by conservation biologist Elizabeth Seely along with two graduate assistants – Kari Kaski and Amanda Phillips. Accompanying the researchers were the Conservation Canines, Gracie, Waylon and Tucker.
The star of this Orca study is Tucker. Tucker is an eight-year-old black lab mix and the first and only dog trained to detect the presence and location of whale scat by scent. Like all Conservation Canines, Tucker is a rescue dog with a little known past. Also like all Conservation Canines, he has an insatiable urge to play. This intense focus, mixed with a borderline obsession for playing with his ball, is what makes him a perfect Conservation Canine team member. He works tirelessly for hours to detect scat knowing his reward is well-earned playtime with his ball – a toy attached to a rope on the bow of the research vessel Moja.
What I witnessed in one day of shadowing this group was nothing short of remarkable. I have been working with the Conservation Canines for five years but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to see them in action. I am proud to call them Ruffwear Ambassadors and look forward to sharing this experience with you.
Click HERE for the second part of this Conservation Canines series to learn more about my experience on the research vessel, Moja, with Tucker, the whale scat detecting lab, and his research assistants. In the meantime, visit the Conservation Canines website by clicking HERE and also check out the New York Times article and video on Tucker HERE.