In Alaska, an amazing Labrador Retriever has retired from his bear-guarding duties.
Oil companies employ armed guards to protect crews from bear attacks. A few years ago, another problem emerged – animals were snatching seismic nodes used in the search for oil and gas.
That’s when Mark Chihuly put his 8-year-old Labrador to work.
Chihuly said he started the first bear-guard business in the state about 15 years ago to protect industry workers from bears. He retired from Professional Wilderness Services just this year – giving the company to former employees but retaining a tiny stake.
Being a bear guard “is not so much knowing how to shoot a bear, it’s about being comfortable around them and knowing when they’re dangerous and when they’re not,” he says.
In 1998, Chihuly launched the company not long after a brown bear mauled a seismic worker to death on the Kenai Peninsula. That incident sparked the hiring of bear guards in the oil industry.
Zipper, the Labrador, came into Chihuly’s life a few years after that, after the dog’s original owner died in a plane crash. Once she grew into an adult, Zipper started going with Chihuly to remote work camps when he’d check up on his crews.
Chihuly trained Zipper to wear a pair of ski goggles when riding choppers to get to the sites.The dog also wore an orange safety vest for visibility. Chihuly even made a miniature hard hat for Zipper from a plastic toy.
Work crews absolutely love seeing Zipper, said Patrick Wheeler, a co-owner of the company.
“She’s always a big hit,” he said. “The standout thing in my mind is that she responds to voice commands like no other dog I’ve ever seen. She’s quite amazing.”
Who wouldn’t love to have a wonderful dog at work?
The Labrador would stay in the field for a day or two with Chihuly, on bear patrol. She would growl if she heard something rustling in the brush, Wheeler said.
In the winter of 2011-2012, she took on a more serious role because heavy snow buried the seismic and they couldn’t be found, Wheeler said.
Bears were also snatching some of the nodes – the teeth marks proved it – and moose occasionally stomped down survey sticks marking the gear, said Wheeler.
All those problems added up to a costly inconvenience for seismic crews that had to find the lost equipment.
In the winter of 2013, Zipper’s nose came in handy. At Hilcorp’s 3D seismic project at Deep Creek,the Labrador helped find two nodes that had been buried in snow and lost, Chihuly said.
“A couple of guys could have found it but it would have taken quite a while,” he said. “Those things get covered with snow and it’s hard to see, but she can find them real fast.”
In May, Zipper was acknowledged at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual luncheon with President Kara Moriarty showing the audience photos of Zipper on a huge screen.
Zipper’s bear patrol had helped crews focus on their jobs, she said.
“The seismic work was successful, and Zipper really is the cutest dog on the planet,” Moriarty said.
Nowadays, both Chihuly and Zipper are enjoying their recent retirement. And just like Chihuly’sother dogs, Zipper has a trail named after her.
Happy retirement, Zipper!
Source: Alaska Dispatch News