Using Scat Detection Dogs to Monitor Environmental Contaminants in Sentinel Species and Freshwater Ecosystems

  • Ngaio L. RichardsEmail author
  • Gregg Tomy
  • Chad A. Kinney
  • Frankline C. Nwanguma
  • Braden Godwin
  • Deborah A. (Smith) Woollett


Many contaminants are introduced into freshwater ecosystems worldwide. Preliminary investigations that focus on apex predator/sentinel species like otter and mink can inform more targeted follow-up studies. The feces of these elusive animals can be collected non-invasively for analysis of contaminants and complimentary genetics. Conservation detection dogs were used to locate otter and mink feces along five rivers in Montana for analysis of heavy metals, anthropogenic organic contaminants (AOCs) including pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), polybrominated (PBDE) flame retardants, and genetics. With highest find rates of 6 and 20 fecal matter finds per km for otter and mink, respectively, and detection of all three focal contaminants in some fecal samples, this proved an excellent application of dogs. Recommendations for follow-up investigations are also provided.


Dog Detection Monitoring Water quality Otter Mink Sentinel species Indicator species Contaminant Heavy metal Flame retardant PBDE Anthropogenic organic contaminant (AOC) Pharmaceutical Freshwater River quality DNA Genetics 



Special thanks to Megan Parker, Director of Research for Working Dogs for Conservation, and to Pepin, for their contribution to the field survey component of this study. Much appreciation is extended to Kristy Pilgrim at the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Missoula, Montana, for diligently performing the genetics analyses, enthusiastically sharing her knowledge and providing invaluable feedback to earlier versions of this chapter. Likewise, Heiko Langner, formerly in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Montana, is thanked for regularly lending his advice and expertise to the heavy metals component of this work. The creativity, hard work, and good humor of Matt Young, also at the Department of Geosciences (water sample processing), and of Thor Halldorson in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manitoba (for his part in the PBDE sample analyses), is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks to Alan Ramsay, Marirose Kuhlman, and Ray Vinkey for giving their time to participate in the surveyor performance comparison trials.

The work described in this chapter was made possible through the generous support of the Kenney Brothers Foundation (Wick Fund), the Cinnabar Foundation (Montana’s Conservation Fund), the Arthur L. ‘Bud’ and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation, and the Animal Welfare Institute, via a Christine Stevens Wildlife Award. N. Richards and D. (Smith) Woollett extend their sincere thanks to these funders for their generosity and backing.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ngaio L. Richards
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gregg Tomy
    • 2
  • Chad A. Kinney
    • 3
  • Frankline C. Nwanguma
    • 3
  • Braden Godwin
    • 4
  • Deborah A. (Smith) Woollett
    • 1
  1. 1.BozemanUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  3. 3.Chemistry DepartmentColorado State University - PuebloPuebloUSA
  4. 4.Wildlife Genomics and Disease Ecology LabUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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