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Specially Trained Dog Rids Mt. Sentinel of Invaders

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A weed-sniffing border collie is helping officials in Montana hunt down a noxious weed found on Mount Sentinel in Missoula.

Seamus, 3, is trained to hunt Dyer’s woad, which occurs in only seven places in the state.

“I feel we’re so close to getting rid of the thing,” Marilyn Marler, the University of Montana’s natural area specialist says.

Seamus is part of a team of nine dogswith Bozeman-based Working Dogs for Conservation. All came from animal shelters.

“He’s a great dog,” said Alice Whitelaw, one of the co-founders of the program and the program director. “He’s very sweet.”

She said a family with small children dropped him off at a shelter.

“I don’t think they were prepared to deal with the high level of energy and activity with a dog like Seamus,” she said. “They’re not your typical dog that’s going to come in and lie on the couch. They need a job.”

For Seamus that job involves finding Dyer’s woad.

Officials say the eradication of Dyer’s woad in Montana is possible. Most of the Dyer’s woad on Mount Sentinel has already been removed after 14 years of pulling and spraying, eliminating hundreds of plants.

But officials said the plants are now harder to find, especially when the plants aren’t flowering. They said all the plants must be located because each can produce 400 seeds.

“It looks like every other plant on the hill,” said Dalit Guscio, a conservation dog handler.

That’s where Seamus comes in with his work ethic and intense sense of smell. He can track the weed’s scent better than a person can find the plant visually.

Megan Parker of Working Dogs for Conservation said dogs in the program tend to be toy-crazy, hyper dogs, which she noted can sometimes make those dogs not the best family pets.

She said the group tests up to 2,000 dogs before finding one that can do the job.

Other dogs in the program hunt other items. One dog, a Belgian malinois named Pepin, can track six scents: snow leopard, lynx, grizzly bear, black bear, wolverine and Dyer’s woad.

Story From The Associated Press

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