They say Ruger is a bad dog and that’s why he does his job so well.
This partially blind U.S. Labrador mix who was labelled ‘bad’ has brought 150 African poachers to book!
Megan Parker, the director of research at Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana in the United States, was scouting animal shelters in search for a dog to train. She was specifically looking for dogs who are unadoptable and hard-to-handle.
“Bad dogs have an overwhelming desire to bring you things,” she said. “Dogs love telling you what they know. They have an inability to quit.”
Working Dogs for Conservation
The trait that seems a nuisance to many is actually a great thing for Parker.
“These dogs have an unrelenting drive,” she said. “For a dog that doesn’t stop, you can train that dog to bring you things.”
Parker, who is a conservation biologist and trainer of detection dogs, admits that “bad” dogs don’t make great pets. But there’s a bright side to that. So-called bad dogs have perfect personalities for conservation work.
Three-year-old Ruger was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. His owner shot his littermates and he luckily escaped. He was then taken to a nearby animal shelter where he was found by a dog trainer who tipped Meg’s organization.
Now, Ruger is the first anti-poaching dog in Zambia and has been doing a great job since September 2014. The Labrador-German Shepherd mix lives right next to South Luangwa National Park where wild animals are being poached, snared and trafficked out of the park. Ruger is responsible for finding elephant ivory, rhino horns, bush meat, other wildlife contraband, guns and ammunition.
In the beginning, Ruger bit and snapped at people.
“He was a scary dog to approach,” said Parker.
“Early on in his training, Meg [Parker] was under pressure from her colleagues to decide if Ruger would make the cut,” said Pete Coppolillo, executive director at Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C). “If a dog doesn’t work out, we make sure they have a forever home. We all wondered if Meg should start finding a place for Ruger, who was losing his sight.”
It was Ruger’s incredible drive that convinced Parker to keep training him. She eventually paired the dog with the scouts of “Delta Team”, a Zambian law enforcement unit jointly operated by the South Luangwa Conservation Society and the Zambia Wildlife Authority.
The scouts, who aren’t used to handling dogs, were skeptical.
On his first day, Ruger accompanied the scouts on a job where roadblocks were set up to search cars and trucks which might be carrying illegal goods.
“It takes humans an hour or more to search a car,” said Coppolillo, “whereas it takes dogs three to four minutes.”
As the vehicles were passing, the dog sat and stared at one of the cars.
“That’s his alert [a dog training term for signal],” said Coppolillo.
The car contained several pieces of luggage. The scouts searched them all and found nothing. But Ruger kept on staring at one particular piece of luggage. There, the scouts found a matchbox wrapped in a plastic bag that contained a primer cap, which ignites gunpowder in illegal muzzle loaders used for poaching.
“At that moment, everyone believed that Ruger knew what he was doing,” Coppolillo said. “They learned to think of Ruger as a colleague.”
Since then, Ruger has gained the trust and confidence of his workmates.
“He’s a hero,” Coppolillo said, “who’s responsible for dozens of arrests and has convinced many skeptics of his detection skills.”
Recently, WD4C held a demonstration at a courthouse, where a number of people believed that Ruger’s incredible skills were similar to witchcraft. One scout hid a piece of ivory for Ruger to detect. It took the dog less than three minutes to find it.
Sadly, amazing as he may be, Ruger is going blind. The good thing is that isn’t slowing him down.
“His skills have sharpened,” Coppolillo said. “He’s working with a few younger dogs, who are somewhat goofy and get distracted like most puppies do. Ruger remains focused despite many distractions, such as having wild animals close by. Baboons are the worst. His lack of eyesight [he can see shadows] works in his favor because he almost entirely focuses on his sense of smell.”
Working Dogs for Conservation
“A dog’s sense of smell is far more developed than we humans can even imagine,” said Coppolillo. “Scientists talk about olfactory receptors, and concentrations, and parts per billion, but to put all that in perspective, think about it this way: a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar dissolved in a million gallons of water – that’s two Olympic swimming pools.”
Of course, Ruger gets compensation for the being an awesome anti-poaching dog. The payment? Playing tug-of-war with his favorite chew toy.
Just like his human colleagues, the hero dog gets days off during the week.
“Poachers are well armed and well trained,” Coppolillo said. “African elephants don’t live throughout the continent. Poachers kill elephants where they reside and smuggle them to places where they don’t live to throw law enforcement off their tracks.”
Now, Coppolillo and Parker are looking into sourcing other dogs in Africa.
“Good dog selection is absolutely essential,” Coppolillo said. “Village dogs simply don’t have the drive to do this kind of work. There are only a handful of suitable and reputable kennels in Africa. Most are focused on selling security and military dogs, so they’re not as well socialized as a conservation dog needs to be. Plus, they generally sell those dogs for much more than what it would cost us to source a dog in the US.”
Meanwhile, Parker continues to visit shelters in the United States for dogs like Ruger. So far, the “bad” dog nobody wanted has put 150 poachers out of business.
Ruger, you are a hero!
Source: The Guardian