Puppy Games

A passel of puppies led to a picture of my daughter Bethany on the Washington Post website this week. The revered D.C. newspaper ran a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming Puppy Bowl. In Photo 16, Bethany cuddles not one, but two, adorable puppies. It was all part of a long day’s work in her role as an associate producer at Petfinder.

Another photo of Bethany ran when I wrote “Help Wanted: Dogs” for YES Mag. Beth09YESThe feature spotlighted different types of working dogs. I learned about acting dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, herding dogs, police dogs, and guide dogs. Yet the canine career that surprised me the most was scat sniffing.

Yes, you read that right. The University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology gives them the more dignified title of Conservation Canines. But basically, the pooches’ job is to point out poop.

Using their super senses of smell, dogs can detect droppings thousands of feet away. That’s very valuable when wildlife won’t otherwise wander near people. Plus, the scent lets them distinguish one species’ feces from another. That’s something we can’t always tell by sight.

Scat samples help scientists determine species numbers, genetics, diet habits, and more. The knowledge helps us understand animals that face environmental pressures. Thus, the dogs’ work helps save wildlife.

In turn, the Conservation Canines program rescues dogs. “All our dogs are rescued from the shelters,” program coordinator Heath Smith told me.

“Ball drive” is a huge job qualification. Smith said the program specifically needs “the type of dog that has the energy to want to play fetch all day long.” Both in training and out in the field, playing fetch is the dogs’ reward for spotting scat.

Now back to the Puppy Bowl: The annual Animal Planet show is a two-hour cuteness extravaganza. More importantly, it’s a showcase for adoptable animals from Petfinder member shelters and rescue groups.

This year Petfinder members brought puppies, kittens, and hedgehogs to the two-day filming. The puppies and kittens were all waiting for adoption. The hedgehogs had already found “forever homes,” but their original rescue groups hope that Puppy Bowl will encourage more people to look for hedgehogs at rescues and shelters. There are plenty more pets of each species at Petfinder’s thousands of member rescues and shelters, along with rabbits, chickens, horses, pigs, birds, and other pets.

“Our mission is to find homes for the 370,000 pets listed for adoption every month on Petfinder,” general manager Iain Langridge told me via email last fall. The Puppy Bowl helps get the word out while providing some fun entertainment before the Super Bowl (or during it, if you’re not a football fan). With luck, lots of adoptable pets will find new homes both before and after the game. Visit Petfinder to learn more, or check out Petfinder on Facebook.

Puppy Bowl IX airs on Animal Planet this Sunday, February 3, 2013, starting at 3 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. Check it out before watching the other big game that’s taking place that day in New Orleans.

What kind of animal job do you find most intriguing?
What kind of pet would you want to adopt?

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