Some shelter dogs have a tough time finding homes. They have high energy, they want to play too much, and they get frustrated when humans can’t keep up. That’s exactly the type of dog that a non-profit organization called Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana looks for. Those dogs may not be well suited for home life as a pet, but their relentless drive to exercise their body and brain and their love for nonstop play makes them perfect for environmental conservation work. And that’s why Ruger, a Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd mix, makes such an excellent anti-poaching dog.
Megan Parker, the director of the organization, searches animal shelters for dogs that don’t fit in and trains them as detection dogs who will be given the important job of helping conservation efforts. They use their noses to find illegal hunting traps, invasive species, guns and weapons, and illegally poached animal materials like ivory. That’s where Ruger comes in. He’s one of the first anti-poaching dog in Zambia.
Ruger was born in Montana. His owner shot his littermates, but Ruger escaped and made it to a local animal shelter where he was found by Parker. At first, Ruger snapped at people and had trouble being in confined spaces. But after some training, he became an excellent detection dog. Scouts from Zambian conservation teams were skeptical of his skills, as they had never used a detection dog. But on his first day, he showed his worth.
The dog joined the team at a roadblock searching cars and trucks for illegal goods. It takes a human more than an hour to search a car, but he only needed four minutes. Ruger alerted the team to one particular car. The scouts searched the vehicle, and didn’t find anything at first until Ruger pointed out a piece of luggage. Inside, the team found a small amount of ignition material used in illegal muzzle loaders for poaching. From then on, Ruger was a part of the team.
The most amazing part is that Ruger is going blind. But that doesn’t hold him back from his work. All he needs is his sense of smell, which seems to be getting sharper every day. In fact, his poor eyesight forces him to focus on his sense of smell even more keenly. He’s less distracted by nearby animals, including baboons. And for a reward he gets his favorite thing in the world, a game of tug-of-war with his favorite chew toy.
Ruger’s work can be dangerous. Poachers are armed and trained, and they’re good at smuggling to throw off the trail of law enforcement. Despite that, he’s been able to shut down 150 poachers during his time in Zambia. He’s been so successful that African conservation authorities are looking to source other American trained dogs in Africa. Working Dogs for Conservation continues to monitor shelters for potential candidates like Ruger to take on this work. Dogs like him may not make for great pets, but they have a higher calling that gives them purpose and a good life.
Are you happy to see dogs like Ruger getting work on conservation teams? Are you excited to see poachers being put out of business? Let us know in the comments below!