Scat detection dogs in the Conservation Canine program are able to locate samples from multiple species simultaneously across large, remote areas. No other method can acquire such a vast amount of reliable information in so short a time. ©Conservation Canines, University of Washington

Last week, you read about shelter dogs that are finding employment—and a new lease on life—as conservation officers in the University of Washington’s Conservation Canines (CK9) program. In the video below, you’ll see some of these dogged deputies in action.

The four-minute production, produced by the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, features several four-footed CK9 “employees.” Among them is Tucker, the whale-scat-finding dog, who hates the water but will face his fear day after day to search for whale scat—all in exchange for a few minutes of playtime with his favorite toy.

Dogs such as Tucker have aided wildlife researchers all over the world and have helped achieve some great conservation gains: by locating the scat of certain species, dogs allow researchers to quickly find and collect it. From DNA analysis of that scat, scientists are then able to determine an animal’s nutrition, stress level, reproductive feasibility and a host of other variables about its life—without ever seeing the animal itself.

Tucker, a conservation canine, indicates he has located whale scat by his posture. ©Conservation Canines, University of Washington

In Alberta, Canada, when caribou were rapidly declining, conservation canines proved that it wasn’t wolves preying on them, but human use of roads that interrupted the caribous’ feeding. As it’s stated in the video, “The findings helped quiet the call to destroy the wolves.”

The dogs have also helped human conservationists genetically map elephant populations all over Africa, information that’s used to fight the illegal trade in ivory. By matching DNA from poached tusks to the specific elephant populations and areas on the map, law enforcement teams know precisely where to go to catch poachers in the act—previously, an almost impossible task. (Warning: the video does contain two graphic photos of elephants that fell victim to poachers.)

These former shelter dogs—many of whom were returned for being “problems”—demonstrate that sometimes, meaningful work is all it takes to change one’s life.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,