Shelter Dogs Are Being Trained to Protect Wildlife—by Sniffing Poop

FiN85/iStock via Getty Images
FiN85/iStock via Getty Images

Dogs can identify tainted wine just by sniffing it, and now shelter dogs' incredible olfactory skills are being put to work for wildlife conservation.

Shelter dogs with endless energy might not make ideal pets, but Samuel Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, gives them a new purpose in the center's Conservation Canines program. Wasser and his colleagues train high-energy and obsessively focused dogs to seek out the scat—a.k.a. poop—of threatened and endangered wildlife. Dogs are 153 percent more accurate than humans in detecting scat by smell, and through the program, the dogs have identified scat from tigers, orcas, spotted owls, bears, and Pacific pocket mice. The dogs hone their skills in Washington State's 4300-acre Pack Forest.

Their work isn't limited to land animals. Since 2006, Wasser and researcher Deborah Giles have studied the endangered southern resident orcas around the San Juan Islands in Washington with the help of the conservation canines. Giles’s rescue dog, Eba, goes out on the boat with researchers and locates orca scat in the water—a scent usually undetectable to humans, KCPQ.com reports. From collected samples of whale poop, Wasser and Giles can tell if the donor animal is pregnant, if it’s getting enough food, and if it's diseased. The sample's chemical composition can paint an entire portrait of the animal’s health. “If you don’t collect data, you don’t know what’s going on,” Wasser told KCPQ.com.

The canines' incredible sense of smell is one key to understanding orcas and other species. And when it comes to saving these threatened animals, humans need all the help they can get.

Therapy Puppy Provides Comfort to Grieving Families at North Carolina Funeral Home

AllenSphoto, iStock via Getty Images
AllenSphoto, iStock via Getty Images

Emotional support animals have become common sights at places like airports, and now the funeral industry is embracing their therapeutic benefits. As WGAL reports, Macon Funeral Home in North Carolina now has a Bernese mountain dog puppy to provide comfort to grieving clients.

Nine-week-old Mochi isn't a fully trained therapy dog yet, but she's already winning over visitors. Tori McKay, Macon's funeral office administrator, had dreamed of bringing a grief-support dog into the business for a decade. Shortly after her 30th birthday on January 4, she and her husband "decided that Mochi would make a wonderful addition to our family and this decade of our lives," she wrote on the funeral home's website.

McKay chose a Bernese mountain dog for the breed's affectionate personality, relaxed disposition, and successful history as an emotional support animal. Between ages 6 months to 1 year, Mochi will receive therapy dog training in Asheville. The plan is to eventually make her available to families upon request and bring her to nursing homes to meet with residents. Until then, the puppy is meeting guests in a more casual setting as she gets used to socializing with strangers.

"Stop by and meet her, she loves making new friends!" a post on the funeral home's Facebook page reads.

[h/t WGAL]

One of the World’s Most Dangerous Spiders Could Invade Homes after Australia's Recent Rainfall

Ian Waldie, Getty Images
Ian Waldie, Getty Images

While recent rainfall has been a welcome change in Australia after destructive bushfires caused a widespread crisis, it hasn’t come without an asterisk. According to the Australian Reptile Park, the wet and warm conditions have made Sydney funnel web spiders highly active—and the funnel web spider happens to be one of the most venomous arachnids on the planet.

In a video the park shared on Facebook, officials warn that the weather might cause a marked increase in the spiders' activity, as males cover territory in search of a mate. They might be found in shoes, in laundry, or in yards. Fortunately, Atrax robustus is easy to identify, with its shiny body providing a helpful visual cue to immediately begin walking in the other direction.

Male funnel webs are thought to have venom up to six times more dangerous than females and also tend to move around more, making human encounters with them more likely. Because they can’t climb smooth surfaces, funnel webs are also prone to burrowing in piled-up clothing or other hiding spaces, providing an unwelcome surprise for anyone looking to retrieve their discarded shirt or socks.

The funnel web is also aggressive, quick to attack when provoked, and packs a powerful enough bite to pierce shoes. After being bitten, pain, muscle spasms, and pulmonary edema follow. Victims should use a compression bandage and limb immobilization to compress surface tissue until they receive medical attention.

Though the species is believed to have caused 13 human deaths, there haven’t been any fatalities attributable to a funnel web bite since 1981. That’s due in large part to antivenom made from milked spiders, an advancement that saved the life of a 10-year-old boy, Matthew Mitchell, bitten by the spider in 2017. The spider was loitering in his shoe and bit him on the finger. After 12 vials of antivenom, Mitchell made a complete recovery.

The Australian Reptile Park is actually encouraging citizens to trap the spiders and bring them in to drop-off sites to aid in the antivenom production effort. They advise nudging the spider into a plastic or glass container with a spoon. Extreme caution should be exercised, but you knew that.

[h/t CNET]

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