Category Archives: special dogs and awards

Bear’s best friends

Detection dog for bears

Camas, of Working Dogs for Conservation, on the job in the Centennial Mountains.  Photo credit:  Julie Larsen Maher

A recently released study from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) details a new method using  “detection dogs,” genetic analysis, and scientific models to assess habitat suitability for bears in an area linking the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) to the northern U.S. Rockies.

The method, according to the authors, offers an effective, non-invasive approach to the collection of data that could play a vital role in the further recovery of grizzly bears during the coming decades.

“The use of detection dogs allowed us to quantify and map key areas of habitat for black bears in the Centennial Mountains located along the Idaho-Montana border west of Yellowstone National Park,” said Jon Beckmann, WCS Scientist and lead author of the study. “Black bears are a proxy species useful for predicting likely grizzly bear habitat. With recovery, a larger grizzly bear population needs room to roam and to reconnect with other populations. The Centennial Mountains region of the U.S. northern Rockies can provide room and safe linkages— critical to connecting the bear population in the GYE area to others further north and west”. 

During the study, two Labrador retrievers and two German shepherds owned and trained by Working Dogs for Conservation, located 616 scat samples of black bears and 24 of grizzly bears (identified by DNA extraction and analysis) in the 2500 square kilometer (965 square mile) study area.

“Dogs excel at searching for multiple scents at once, even if one is far more common than the other,” according to Aimee Hurt, Working Dogs for Conservation co-founder. “In this case, the dogs easily alerted us to a multitude of black bear scat, while also readily locating the rare grizzly bear scat, resulting in a multitude of data points and a robust model.”

“We recognize that black bears do not always utilize the landscape in precisely the same manner as grizzly bears,” said Beckmann. “But given the paucity of grizzly bears in the study area—especially  during the years of our study—our  approach, data, and model have value to grizzly bear conservation and management. This is especially true given that black bears and grizzly bears in the GYE are known to utilize very similar habitats spatially, but at different times.” 

Plugging the scat sample location data into their scientific model, the scientists examined the landscape with respect to habitat parameters, private lands, public land management and human activity in the area. Results of modeling provided insight into bear habitat use and resource selection patterns.

Among the findings it was determined that distance to roads matters; bears use habitat that is farther from roads, and when road density increased within 4 kilometers of a location bears used that habitat less. Bears also used a habitat less if it were high elevation, or privately owned. With this information land managers, land trusts, and others will be better informed to make bear habitat management and conservation decisions. This study may also inform human-bear conflict avoidance, and so help people and bears better co-exist.

“Using Detection Dogs and RSPF Models to Assess Habitat Suitability for Bears in Greater Yellowstone,” appears in the current edition of Western North American Naturalist. Co-authors include: Jon P. Beckmann of WCS; Lisette P. Waits of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, University of Idaho; Aimee Hurt and Alice Whitelaw of Working Dogs for Conservation; and Scott Bergen of Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

WCS’s work in this region is supported by the Turner Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation, Brainerd Foundation, The New York Community Trust, and the Bureau of Land Management–Dillon, Montana office.

Source:  Wildlife Conservation Society media release



When Dogs Heal

When Dogs Heal is a photographic exhibition supported by the charity Fred Says, which helps people diagnosed with HIV.

The photographs tell the stories of the dogs who helped their HIV-positive owners through tough times.

When Dogs Heal photograph

Paolo and Stud

The photographs have been shown in Chicago and New York, and through the When Dogs Heal website, galleries can express interest in hosting an exhibit.

When Dogs Heal photograph

Sharon and Dulk

The stories behind the photographs are pretty hard-hitting, but then again so is HIV and the impact of an HIV diagnosis.  Just another example of the human-animal bond and the connection between dogs and good health.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand


A device to help monitor guide dog health

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a device that allows people who are blind to monitor their guide dogs, in order to keep tabs on the health and well-being of their canine companions.

Guide dog and handler

Sean Mealin and Simba, using a traditional guide dog harness and handle. Photo credit: NC State University

“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” says David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the new technology. “This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public.

To address this need, the researchers have developed a suite of technologies that monitor a dog’s breathing and heart rate and share the information with the dog’s handler.

“Our goal is to let guide dog handlers know when their dogs are stressed or anxious,” says Sean Mealin, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. “This is important because it is widely believed that stress is a significant contributing factor to early retirement of guide dogs and other service animals. The technology may also be able to help handlers detect other health problems, such as symptoms of heat exhaustion.”

The issue is particularly important to Mealin, who is blind and works with his own guide dog, Simba.

The research team had previously developed monitoring technologies that are incorporated into a lightweight harness that can be worn by rescue or service dogs. The trick was to find a way to share that monitoring data with users who are blind – and to do so in a way that allows those users to act on the information.

So, the researchers developed a specialized handle that attaches to a guide dog’s harness.  The handle is equipped with two vibrating motors.

High tech dog harness

This guide-dog harness handle contains electronics that allow users to monitor the breathing and heart rate of their dogs. Photo credit: David Roberts

One motor is embedded in the handle by the handler’s thumb, and vibrates – or beats – in time with the dog’s heart rate. When the dog’s heart rate increases, so does the rate at which the motor beats.

The second motor is embedded in the handle near the handler’s pinky finger, and vibrates in synch with the dog’s breathing. The vibration increases and decreases in intensity, to simulate the dog breathing in and out.

“We’re refreshing the design and plan to do additional testing with guide-dog handlers,” Roberts says. “Our ultimate goal is to provide technology that can help both guide dogs and their people. That won’t be in the immediate future, but we’re optimistic that we’ll get there.”

Source:  NC State University media release

Gabe, Best Man

When veteran Justin Lansford got married last month to long-time girlfriend, Carol, his best man was his support dog Gabe.

A Golden Retriever, Gabe was matched with Lansford when he returned from Afghanistan an amputee thanks to an IED explosion in 2012.

Lansford lost his left leg to that explosion and also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Justin and Gabe wait at the alter (Brad Hall Photography)

Justin and Gabe wait at the alter (Brad Hall Photography)

ABC News’ Good Morning America also covered the story:

A big shout-out to Justin, Carol and Gabe….may you have a long and happy life together!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Rescuing pups from Afghanistan

U.S. Army Specialist Combat Medic Holden Schoenig, who is 22, wants to save five puppies and their mother found in the streets of Afghanistan where they have been living under a scrap metal pile.

Kabul Commandos puppy rescue

He’s enlisted his mother’s help to get these dogs into the USA.   He’s affectionately named the pups the ‘Kabul Commandos.’   Lucky, one of the pups, is destined to go to New York where he will live with the Schoenig family and await Holden’s arrival.

So far, funds have been raised for 4 of the 6 dogs.

If you’d like to help, you can donate to the Go Fund Me campaign being administered by Holden’s mother, Melanie.

Dogs give a lot of comfort to soldiers serving in battle; at only 22, I think Holden deserves a happy ending for his ‘pet project.’

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Barley is more than a pet

These are the introductory words to this video, another excellent one sponsored by the Kleenex brand.

Andi is a little girl with Down’s Syndrome and Barley is her assistance dog who has been trained by Canine Companions for Independence.

I love to share stories about assistance dogs like Barley.  No wonder this video has been called “A Girl’s Best Friend”

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Chester, the therapy dog who also needed help

Chester, a nine-year old black Labrador, made a name for himself earlier this year in Colorado.  Over the course of a 16-week trial, he comforted the victims, witnesses and first responders who were giving testimony in the trial of James Holmes.

Holmes was charged with the killing of 12 people and the wounding of 70 others when he opened fire at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.  He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

This video shows the value of Chester in his role as a comfort dog.

However, Chester’s story doesn’t stop there.  Last month, he ended up as a patient at Colorado State University.  He was having severe neck pain and was diagnosed with discospondylitis, an infection of the bone in the vertebrae of the lower cervical spine.

Chester has made a successful recovery.  This special dog got the care he needed when his condition was urgent.

Special care for a special dog (but all dogs are special, aren’t they…)

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand