Last fall we traveled to The Redwoods in Northern California to photograph Gilligan, a scent detection dog who uses his nose to find several different things. Known as a conservation K9, Gilligan spends his days either at boat launch or in The Redwoods.
What is he searching for? Well, when he's working at the boat launch he is sniffing out invasive mussel species. These mussel species can devastate any water ecosystem and it's important that they stay out of the waterways. Gilligan works at several different waterways in California.
Gilligan, along with is co-woofers from Mussel Dogs, work to protect the waterways of California from invasive quagga and zebra mussels. The mussels showed up in the 1980's in Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Since then, they have spread throughout North America, impacting not only the ecosystems of the waterways, but also affecting the economy and infrastructures of cities and towns that depend on those waterways. It's important work.
While sniffing out invasive mussel species is important, that's not the only thing Gilligan searches for. His claim to fame is that he is one of only two dogs in the world to have found Marbeled Murrelet egg shells as a conservation K9 with Dogs With Jobs. He was part of a proof of concept experiment as Dogs with Jobs partnered with The National Park Service to see if dogs could, indeed, find the egg shells.
The Marbeled Murrelet is a threatened species along the west coast of the United States (except in Alaska). These little sea birds are also forest birds and nest in the mossy old growth forests, like The Redwoods. They build their nest high atop the large redwoods and make their way out to sea for food.
Gilligan and his co-woofer, Hexxer were tasked with finding the egg shells that had fallen to the ground once a baby bird had hatched. Since Marbeled Murrelets only lay one egg per year, the teams had to be in the right place at the right time. And they were!
Gilligan and Hexxer were the first canine teams to be used to find Marbeled Murrelet eggs ever. Using dogs had never been tried previously, so their success is kind of a big deal.
Gilligan is being featured in my next book "Working Tails of the Pacific Northwest" so we traveled down to the Redwoods to see him in action.
This sturdy, yellow lab lets nothing stop him as he searches. His nose to the ground and his ear to his human, Gilligan searches quickly in the dense forest. He's lightning fast and always ready to work. His powerful legs propel him through the forest as his keen sense of smell guides him along. His ears are always listening for his human partner's voice as he races through between the trees. When he's found what he's looking for he stops and alerts.
This once homeless dog has found his place at Dogs With Jobs and loves the hunt as much as the toy he gets at the end of the hunt.
He is missing a toe on one of his front paws, but that doesn't stop him....or even slow him down. He loves to work.
The Redwood Forest is a magical place, with trees that are larger than you can imagine. The ground in the forest is soft and absorbed all sound, so it's eerily quiet, except for an occasional caw of a crow or raven. Everything is large and lush. The trees themselves can reach into the sky over 200 feet and I was intimidated to try to create images that would convey the sense of wonder and magic. "
We spent several hours in The Redwood Forest with Gilligan and his human partner, Debi. Debi explained how Gilligan works in the forest, how she trained him to find the Marbeled Murrelet egg shells and how no one was sure the dogs could do it. Using dogs to find the egg shells had never been done before, so expectations were low. After searching for 10 days, Gilligan and Hexxer had found 2 egg shells and solidified their place in Conservation K9 history.
I'm Holly and I specialize in photographing working dogs. I am currently creating another book for and about working dogs. If you'd like your working dog to be featured, registration is currently open to any working dog in the Pacific Northwest (or beyond).
I'm also available for private sessions for working dogs and for companion dogs.