Shelter dogs and wildlife? The Humane Society of the United States and the California Department of Fish and Game?
These seemingly odd couples matched up nicely through Cal-TIP, the "California Turn In Poachers" program.
Cal-TIP operates a tip line where citizens may leave anonymous tips about suspected poaching. Officers following up on the tips often use dogs to help them locate the tell-tale carcasses or body parts left behind by illegal hunters.
This branch of state law enforcement faces some tough problems. Drastic budget shortfalls in California threaten Fish and Game along with other state services, while poaching remained as serious a problem as ever--or worse.
A Case For Shelter Dogs
Meanwhile, healthy, intelligent dogs languish in shelters, desperately needing a chance to bond with people and ways to put their smarts to work. National figures indicate that about half of the animals in shelters are euthanized for lack of homes, many of which are dogs just waiting for someone to give them a new home--or in this case, a job.
Many pets at shelters were obtained by someone with unrealistic expectations of the time, effort and money required to sustain a lifelong relationship with their pet. Others might have been given up because of behavioral issues, or a family moving to a place that doesn't allow pets.
Luckily, some of these dogs found their calling in Fish and Game's K-9 program, but cash was so scarce that officers had to pay the dogs' expenses out of their own pockets.
Sniffing out Criminals
California faces an unprecedented assault on wildlife, between poachers, invasive species and environmental issues. With fewer than 200 game wardens in the field--about one warden for every 180,000 people--and the state running short of funding, poachers find it easier to stay one step ahead of the law.
The international black market drains California of natural resources. Poachers illegally sell wildlife and wildlife parts for an estimated $100 million a year, revenue second only to the illicit drug trade.
The K-9s learn to detect odors of bear, deer and gunpowder, and help officers capture suspects. CalTip says that one well-trained dog can save up to 800 personnel hours per year.
The dogs use their powerful sense of smell--up to a million times greater than a human's--to quickly find evidence, even when it's hidden. For instance, a dog can locate a bear gall bladder hidden in a hub cap, or track down a rifle cartridge casing on a wooded hillside.
Cal-TIP dogs even help bust poachers of abalone and other aquatic wildlife.
The HSUS Steps in with Rewards and Vet Expenses
The HSUS works hard to stop the abuse of wildlife, and poachers are some of the most irresponsible abusers we know. We quickly recognized that Cal-TIP was on the right track, and we found ways to help.
The HSUS already offered rewards for tips that result in the arrest and conviction of poachers in any state. We stepped in with a standing offer to increase Cal-TIP's reward offering by $2,500, giving the program a more powerful incentive for tipsters during the budget crunch.
Recent California cases in which The HSUS offered rewards include the poaching of two California condors and a cruel incident involving several antelope.
On the canine side, a grant to Cal-TIP helps officers pay for care, supplies and food for the K-9 dogs. Petplan Pet Insurance, the official pet insurance provider for The HSUS, generously contributes to CalTIP to assist with the dogs' health care.
A sweet part of the deal is knowing that Cal-TIP saves the lives of shelter dogs who might not have a chance otherwise. Bringing poachers to justice is more icing on the cake.
Help Make A Difference
: For more information, please visit www.humanesociety.org
Catherine Hess is a Web Producer for The Humane Society of the United States.