Combining a Love of Dogs with Conservation with Co-Founder Heather Nootbaar

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla interviews co-founder Heather. They discuss how Heather got into the world of conservation detection dogs, her experience before K9 Conservationists, and how she and Kayla joined forces. 

Science Highlight: Using Scent Detection Dogs in Conservation Settings: A Review of Scientific Literature Regarding Their Selection

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • Heather’s dad, who showed bearded collies when she was a kid
  • Heather’s history as a zoology major in college, then working in zoos and wolf sanctuaries
  • How diving way into animal behavior and dog training landed Heather a job with conservation dogs
  • K9 Ellie’s temperament and how that challenged Heather to grow
  • How Heather made money and survived financially through unpaid internships
  • How Heather selected Ellie for work – and what she’ll do differently next time
  • The pros and cons of working with a dog who’s more food-driven than toy-driven
  • What Heather learned in a K9 Nosework class that helped (and didn’t help) as a working dog handler
  • The hiccups Ellie and Heather experienced during their first wind farm job
  • How Kayla and Heather met and joined forces
  • Where Heather is excited to see the field progress in the future

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

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Transcript (AI- Generated)

Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:09
Hello and welcome to the canine conservationist podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I’m one of the cofounders of canine conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today, I am joined by one of my co founders, Heather neut. Bar. Welcome to the podcast, Heather.

Heather Nootbaar 0:33
Thanks for having me.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:35
So today, we are doing similar to our episode that we just did with Rachel kind of an introductory episode for the other two co founders of canine conservationists. And I’m really excited to get to know a little bit more about how they’re with all of you. But first, we will jump into our science highlight. So this week, we’re reading the paper using detection dogs in conservation settings, a review of scientific literature regarding their selection, which was published by Sarah Beebe, Tiffany Howell and Pauline Bennett in frontiers in veterinary science in 2016. They were examining how existing organizations have adapted selection instruments from other contexts for the use of conservation dogs, but they noted that there is very little published information available regarding the effectiveness of these instruments for actually selecting conservation dogs. So what they found is that 43.3% of conservation dog handlers or owners or trainers reported that dogs were acquired from professional conservation detection dog training organizations, or were selected using criteria developed by those organizations, which actually that 43% Seems kind of low for that. A further 40% of the studies reported adapting tools used for the selection and training of narcotics explosive search and rescued cadaver police and forensic detection odds. Of those only one study reported on the specific assessment tools that were adopted. And to quote they say, the lack of standardized and publicly available assessment tool for conservation detection dogs, along with a widespread failure in available literature to report on scientific assault on a specific selection process is significant is a significant omission, particularly given that Several studies show that conservation detection dog performance may be impacted by many factors, and quote, and then later in the paper, they continue a quote, When analyzing the specific characteristics of commonly selected foreign conservation detection dogs, and adhere to that a strong player Food Drive was the most common trait selected for appropriate temperament for the field of conservation was also cited often. And traits regarding problem solving, intelligence and trainability were reports were reportedly selected for in many studies. This suggests a considerable focus on physiologic psychological factors above biological or social factors. And is important because these traits are typically very poorly defined and difficult to measure. biological characteristics of the dog including agility, physical stability, and body type were included as a selection consideration. In only a few studies in review, they did note that, to them, the important factors for selecting a conservation dog should include and often do include morphology. So you know, for example, we’ve talked about this before, you may not want a severely brachiocephalic breed that easily overheats in the field, the olfactory system, ensuring lots intact visual and auditory systems, again, ensuring that’s intact, but also potentially looking at dogs that are not highly, highly attuned to their visual auditory systems over their olfactory system, such as sight sounds, the dog’s personality, nerve strength, motivational desires, social intelligence, and of course, handler characteristics. So, I think this is a really important paper and something that we all need to be keeping in mind, as we’re sharing our, our information on how we select our dogs. And, you know, maybe one day someone will actually be able to examine the success of different approaches for selection, and how those may differ. Because, again, we don’t know if using test a actually predicts dog success better than test to be this also it is a literature search, they were not able to do a controlled comparison of a selection strategies. That would be a massive, massive study, and I don’t know where we’re where or when we would get funding for that. And overall, it’s just tough because people aren’t really publishing on their selection, methodology match, you know, as they noted, people just aren’t saying all that much. So without further ado, let’s get into it with Heather. Heather, why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit about like, what were you like as a kid? Were you always into dogs? Were you always into conservation? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 4:49
You Yeah. I was actually telling you about it yesterday, but I actually grew up. My first dog was a bearded Collie because As when my dad was younger, he was a bearded Collie breeder and would show them at, you know, conformation sort of shows. And so my dog growing up, he was his kind of last one, he didn’t breed him. But that’s kind of how I’ve grew up in that realm and have always had dogs in my life knew I wanted to do something with them, but obviously, or not, maybe not, obviously. But people often are, you know, do you want to be a veterinarian, and that just never felt like the right fit for me. And as I grew older, I really felt my heart towards saving the planet. I know, dream big. But so then I actually ended up going to school for zoology and wildlife conservation, slash management, and then had kind of growing up, though always been an outdoorsy kid. played a lot of sports, and did a lot of things with dogs outside. But yeah, it’s kind of come full circle to where we’re at now, but didn’t know that this was a career path to be striving towards at that time.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:20
Yeah, yeah, I don’t. I don’t know if I’ve talked to anyone who was like, Yeah, you know, when I was six years old, I heard about the field of conservation detection dogs, like, I mean, maybe now that we’re doing more Skype a scientist stuff in 10 or 15 years, we’ll have our first our first kid who came around from Skype a scientist, but that sounds fairly typical. Yeah, so did you did you have any classes or jobs or anything that were particularly impactful for you in either high school or in college.

Unknown Speaker 6:51
Um, I think my high school class that was just AP environmental science was the one I found the most interesting, kind of telling us all about, or learning all about the plates that our planet and environment are having to deal with. And in college, mammalogy course, and I don’t know any other ones off the top of my head. But yeah, and then background of jobs and things that I had after, after college, just trying to find my fit within the wildlife and conservation field, I kind of bounced around trying to, you know, find what felt right and spent some time at the Columbus Zoo because I went to school in Columbus. And that was a good experience, but kind of wanted to be doing something I don’t know, that had a more direct impact, or I felt like I was doing more hands on then obviously, caring for the the animals there is important, but it’s a it was a different type of feeling I was going after. And then I was at a wolf dog sanctuary, where I learned a lot just about the creature that people created, and how it’s really not their fault that they are here, but a lot of people get them and don’t realize that around, you know, a year and a half, they’re not really meant to be inside a house. And so they had nowhere to go. So this woman in Tennessee had tons of land and made it her mission to give them the most natural, you know, outside life that they can. So all that to say I tried sanctuary life. And then just, I think I was just looking for, again, more more hands on more connection to I guess, the planet at large, and was on the Texas a&m job board and shout out to them. I think I just came across a conservation detection, dog posting. And I was like, What is this? It’s a mixture of two of my favorite things. And that led me to where we are. And you know, four years later.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 9:10
Yeah, yeah, that’s, it’s so interesting. And I think part of why I’m excited to do this, these episodes is like seeing some of the parallels and some of the differences between you and me and Rachel. And then we’ve actually got a couple other episodes coming out where we interviewed a bunch of different conservation handlers about how they got into the field, and actually how they selected their dogs. So that ties into our science highlight. Yeah, and it seems like so many of us were doing this kind of bouncing around and, you know, we didn’t quite want to be a vet. We didn’t quite want to be a zookeeper. We didn’t quite want to be at an animal shelter. Maybe we didn’t quite want to do you know, point counselor bird banding. But we wanted to be somewhere in that in that area. And yeah, so when you when you found that first job, did you get that First strong and if not, what were some of the steps that you took between that and actually landing your first conservation dog gig?

Unknown Speaker 10:07
Yeah, so the first job, if I’m not mistaken, was with a group called Find it detection. And they are out in Colorado somewhere, I had just kind of applied or reached out really on a whim, knowing I did not have a dog at the time, but I think they provided a dog. So they were looking for handlers for their seasonal work. And I kind of got the response back that you don’t have quite enough like back country wildlife experience, or the dog handling side. So they could have either gone with either side, and I didn’t have enough of either to be a good fit. But then that kind of gave me the kick in the butt to start doing that. I had been applying to numerous wildlife technicians or biological, you know, steady tech jobs through the job board. But just being in, in that field, it’s quite oversaturated. Or it’s just really hard to land some of those jobs. So I was like, well, since I haven’t had a ton of luck doing that side of things, why don’t I brush up on my dog handling skills. Growing up, like I said, I had dogs and you know, had been training them, quote, unquote, but I didn’t have a solid education or background in like the theory behind it and things like that. So that’s kind of where I started, I ended up going to a lecture kind of workshop at my local library, and a woman was talking about dog training there. She turned me on to the pet professional guild. And so I just looked up local trainers that I had the same kind of philosophy and emailed them and told them what my ambitions were. And I got an email back from a woman who was very, very nice and said, Why don’t you just come shadow my dog classes. And I did that for a whole summer. And all the while in the background, I was looking for my canine partner. I knew I was drawn to the herding breeds. And I was kind of looking for Border Collie. So when the right dog came along, I pulled the trigger. But I think that might be another question.

Unknown Speaker 12:35
No, that’s okay. Well, yeah, I do have these, this trainer that shadowed you,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 12:41
you know, what are some of the things that you were able to learn in this like group class setting that you have found useful and applicable for your life as a conservation dog handler? Because I think sometimes there’s there’s this kind of like, perception that can be perpetuated by the industry that like, well, we’re not really dog trainers the same way other dog trainers are, so there’s not really much you’re gonna get from going to a local obedience class. And I know I disagree. But this is your interview. What do you think about that? What did is there anything that you found useful there that you’ve moved on with?

Unknown Speaker 13:13
Oh, totally, I think just seeing different dogs, like even just different individual dogs and the families that they’re with, you can observe the interactions learn dog behavior and body language just from being there, and kind of get an idea of what instinctively or like, what certain breeds might traditionally provide for you a theology wise. And that can kind of tailor what may work for you as a handler in the field. Like they’re, like we’ve discussed before on the podcast, that there’s, you know, different spectrum of dogs for the job, and you can make a lot of them work, it’s just what works for your lifestyle when you’re also not in the field working with them. So just getting a feel for what might be a good fit for you. And then, just like noticing the relationship building, I think that’s super important. And then it’s important to have basic, I don’t know if it’s manners, but just like, for in the field, you have to have Yeah, like an emergency stop, or just like have skills directionals, things like that, that are for safety reasons, important for a conservation dog to have. So they’re the basic level, it also helps while you’re, if you get a puppy, you know, building that relationship, to then transfer on to a working partnership. So just, yeah, all around, like connectedness with your dog.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 14:47
Yeah, absolutely. And I know, you know, to some degree, you can get really far without knowing the quadrant. So operant conditioning, and without having a formal education and learning theory or a theology Yeah, but danlos things can really help. Like,

Unknown Speaker 15:04
totally, and I had a few of those issues like come up, like, I was having a little bit of trouble. I don’t know, Ellie was my first highly active and intelligent to breed, or like on the higher end of that scale, that’s what you get with a border collie. And so I kind of didn’t know what I was in for. So it was kind of a learning process in like, if an issue would come up, you know, that’s kind of how I think I might have come across journey dog training back then, with like, oh, this issue. So it’s just the willingness and like, yeah, just wanting to problem solve and make your life, your dog and your life a little bit better, but helping them get through the human human side of the world a little better. So totally agree that like, you don’t have to know all of the basics or the definitions of things. But understanding, getting that understanding does help in the future of like, recognizing different things that could come up or how to prevent things. Yeah, by how you set them up to?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:14
Yeah, definitely. I do not know how I would survive barley actually almost more so than niffler. Even though I got niffler as a puppy, if I did not have obviously, again, some amount of dog training, know how and whether that comes from years of hands on experience, and maybe less less of the academic experience, or I do think that academic experience can really kickstart things. So I have a one last question for you. Before we get into le. Because I think this is important to talk about while you had your summer where you were shadowing this trainer. Were you working as well. were you living at home with your parents? How were you kind of supporting yourself through that? How did how do you make manage to get get that learning done? When it given that it wasn’t a paid position? It sounds like

Unknown Speaker 17:04
yeah, I was fortunate enough to still have my parents house to live in. So I wasn’t having to deal with additional rent and housing costs. But I did have a full time job at a wildlife prevention. Exclusion. I don’t know how to describe it, but a wildlife customer service job that I was working, you know, a 730 to five. Yeah. And then after that, going to puppy class and things like that in the evenings, like two to three times a week, just to like get get that get them those hours under my belt.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:44
Yeah, well, yeah, that sounds very busy. And actually, it’s funny, the first thing I thought was like, gosh, you were almost lucky that you didn’t have Ellie yet. Because trying to manage that schedule, when you had la would have been tough. And maybe that’s a little takeaway for early career people is if you’re in that stage where you might need to be juggling multiple jobs, because you’re doing so much learning, maybe don’t rush to get a dog quite yet.

Unknown Speaker 18:07
Totally. And I can say that my time, shadowing definitely dropped off as soon as a puppy entered my life. So fair question and

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:16
yeah, I mean, yeah, cuz I know I did kind of my really intensive, like, probably 60 to 80 hour week madness, while primarily while I was in undergrad. And like, I didn’t have a dog yet, part of my learning was that I was a paid dog sitter. And I used those dogs setting clients as my test subjects to practice everything I was learning in dog class. So you know, I was like, Oh, what’s this positive reinforcement thing, maybe we can teach this dog to walk without the prong collar that I’ve been handed by the owner. And I was able to do that while also managing, you know, to do all the fun things that you do in college and also have a job and blah, blah, blah, because I did not have a dog yet. So pivoting to that. How, how did you find Ellie? And what were you looking for? Because you knew where you were going. But there’s not a clear roadmap as again, we’ve talked about in the science highlight, like, there’s not a good checkbox, publicly available online to help ensure that you get the right dog for this field. So how did you do it and where did she come from?

Unknown Speaker 19:24
Yeah, that was obviously a big decision slash undertaking that I was trying to just figure out all on my own because there are very little resources. I think I had probably gone to like a few of the organizations that are doing conservation detection work and saw what breeds that they were dealing with, and saw some of maybe their assessment videos like I knew I wanted a dog that had a higher toy drive. Also hard to necessarily assess with a puppy so it was trying to find Either I think I was stuck on wanting like a clean, quote unquote clean slate. So I went for a puppy i Yeah. And in hindsight, like knowing what I know now, four years later, my selection process for my next conservation dog would be quite different. But I still am lucky that I had the dog that I had taught me a lot. And anyway, I guess, yeah, so I had felt I had been using shelters, I’ve been using PET finder, filtered the dog that I was there, the breeds that I was looking for, I think I had cattle dog and Border Collie as my filters, and occasionally a shepherd would come like come in to that filtered group. And yeah, I just kind of looked at maybe daily at one point just to see if the right dog would come along. And realistically, like I was in Illinois, and I didn’t have the means to go to too far out of my range, I ended up driving four hours into Wisconsin to pick up Ellie. And at that point, I should have been ready that if it wasn’t the right fit, you know, to leave, but it’s kind of a sunk cost of like, well, we’re four hours in and I mean, yeah, but I met her and we played in their outside enclosure candle thing. And she played with the ball. And I was like, Cool. That’s good. So yeah, then then the learning. Learning came after that. But I think I really just got lucky. Like, she still is not as high of a drive for for toys, when we’re playing or when we’re searching, like she is still more food motivated, which I’ve come to learn, like, there are pros and cons of having that like when you are in a field position when it’s so hot outside that is extra energy for your dog to play fetch or, you know, go after their frisbee or whatever. That is, yeah, and you have to like limit their reward. That’s kind of a negative, whereas I can just give her some cheese or chicken and she’s totally ready to find the next odor that are next target that we’re finding. So I but yeah, I still wish sometimes that she she would have that little bit more focus. Or like drive, but Leah live and learn. And yeah, so how I guess I how I started, she was four months old when I got her. And we started at a puppy class just to get some socialization in. And then I think maybe around six months, we did our first nosework class at the same same place, they were offering Keen Eye nose work. So that was her intro to the set work field. And I’m sure that’s how every basic knows where class goes. But it was just like finding food in boxes. And I was learning a lot like I had been doing a little bit of my own kind of education of the like, odor dynamic scent theory on the side. But it was good to see what a nose were constructor had to say learn from all their past experience. And then see what they’re seeing in my dog. And yeah, and then we just kind of progressively went through the class from there got on to some essential or essential oil odors. And yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:54
yeah, yeah, that well, and yeah, starting at six months is young. And she, she’s, she’s a cool dog to watch search because she’s, she’s very bouncy and has a lot of fun. But she’s also super efficient. And I think she is one of those, those dogs that really proves that you don’t need the dogs that will like, you know, jump run through a burning building for their tennis ball in order to have a successful working dog. You did mention one that there are some things that you would or will do differently when you’re looking for your next partner. What are some of those differences or things that you’re going to be thinking about for your next dog?

Unknown Speaker 24:36
Yeah, I think I’m still on the fence of if I will go the route that you did with niffler with trying to find a breeder and really vet the background of the dog to try or the parents to try and see if it’s, you know, would be the best fit, working dog wise to try and set your dog up for success being that this is my chosen career field. Like I, I just think it could like I got really lucky with Ellie but getting a puppy at a shelter, just not knowing the background of the parents and things, challenges could come up. And being with this lifestyle, it would be really tough to have a dog that you’ve invested so much time in, that doesn’t want to be a working dog because of, you know, their background and things. So I think, yes, starting them off as best as they can. Or the other option is finding a dog that’s at a shelter or through another means, like the Search Dog Foundation, when that might have washed out in another field, but is a little bit older. So you kind of know what you’re getting with that dog. But they have that drive to want to work and, you know, haven’t been able to successfully be placed in a family home. So those are kind of the two routes that I’m thinking about for now. And knowing Yeah, I think my next dog, I would like the challenge of having a little bit more drive the dog now that I’ve had experience seeing how Mr. Barley works. And being in Kenya, seeing how proceed the Malinois has worked, I think it would just be quite a shift from when I’m used to. Ellie has a very solid like, on and off button, which is been amazing. But we’re active all the time anyway. So I think it would be a fun dynamic to try out. Yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 26:34
yeah, absolutely. And yeah, and I think you make a good point that like, in general, puppies are hard to predict. And it’s just that much harder when you’re going with a shelter dog where you can’t necessarily look back through their pedigree, or meet the parents and see what the parents are doing because they’re like mufflers, folks. He’s got at least one stud dog in his pedigree that has produced several female certified search and rescue dogs. I think he’s got one of them also in his pedigree. And, you know, his pedigree isn’t like, it’s not like it’s 100% star studded or whatever. But he’s got enough of that behind him plus, knowing that both of his parents do performance in sport. And were are very solid doing agility or disc dog performances in front of like, you know, the halftime show at a stadium or whatever, that I felt pretty confident that I was going to have the genetic package I need I needed and then you know, the puppy assessments, I feel like were a little bit less important than just knowing that I had, I was very likely to have the genetic package I needed. And then, you know, yes, again, we did assess puppies. We’ve talked about this in the past on the show. But we’ve also talked in the past. This was actually I think, in the pandemic puppy podcast that I used to run, we had an entire episode called puppy temperament tests aren’t very predictive with Dr. James ha. And with a shelter puppy. The temperament tests are kind of all you’ve got, because best mom might be available. But you have no idea what dad is like. And in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, you have no idea what the grandparents are like. And without having a breeder kind of putting the work into mom. Even if, you know, say you’ve got a Malinois who comes into the shelter. She’s pregnant, she has a litter, they look like Malinois Shepherd crosses, say, I saw this at the shelter I used to work for and you kind of look at them. And you’re like, yeah, they could be working dog prospects, this was a conversation we had at the shelter was I think they were actually mounted on a lab across as we thought. And, you know, so they’ve got the breed there. But without anyone having put the work into mom to demonstrate her abilities, it was really hard to assess her. And then again, obviously, we just had no idea on dad’s side or the grandparents or anything going down a rabbit hole. But I think those are really good points and really good cautionary tales that potentially if you know you want a puppy, it might be better to just go with a breeder, because then you know, you’re getting realistically sheltered puppies, they’re not the ones that are at risk of not getting adopted. So, you know, a little bit less necessary as far as the rescuing side of things. Yeah, so tell us a little bit about how you in LA transition from your nosework course into work. Tell us about your first field season. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Unknown Speaker 29:38
Yeah, so, um, well, we were wrapping up our I guess at that time most recent or current nosework course a nother job posting passed by my eyes and it was with West which is where we have been for most of our field work. And so West is very open to hiring green and new handlers. So kind of the process was, you know, applying, showing that you have a teachable dog for and that is interested. But they don’t have such high stakes or standards that they’re looking for. Because you are bringing your own dog, they’re not providing a dog. So at that time, she was around nine months old. So it’s still quite young to have started, but that was when we first had made contact, and then kind of followed their scent training protocol. Ellie was already like, on Part Four, by the time we had gotten that, like she was already on odor, they kind of start you off at literally square one. But she was already on odor. So it was just a matter of getting the training aid sent to us and transitioning into the imprinting phase. And then we just kind of filmed our training sessions sent them in for feedback. It was really nice having, you know, at that time, you know, someone that was in the conservation field and knew what they were looking for to give me pointers, because I had my nosework instructor, but it’s quite different than nosework being an operational field team. So yeah, we got to the point of going to our first field site having our kind of odor recognition, test or or assessment on site. And it went horribly, horribly. Yeah, I think so it was her first time, obviously, on a wind farm. So I think it was really just like, the context was not there yet of this is we’ve been playing this search game, and all of these these different areas, but now we’re doing it under this big swooshy turbine thing. And I think, yeah, it just took her. I think it was like three days, and of me thinking that my training was terrible. I failed her. And, and then it all clicked and we had a pretty successful first season just there was a lot of kinks to work out. But that was, you know, as to be expected. And I’ve only we’ve only ever grown as a team. Since then, like the first season we were at a place that had quite a bit of birds that she was interested in when the there wasn’t enough fines for her. So she was getting a little bored and fun things to occupy her time. Which fair, I guess, but also frustrating for me. And then, but that that only happened like a few a few times throughout the season. But then the next year, we returned. And it’s just it’s been really fun to see. This is now our third field season doing the wind farm work. And like I’ve already noticed changes and like the progression she’s had like she She’s a pro at this point. And I think it also has a lot to do with her first season. She was just a young dog in general. It was a lot to ask for. And now that she’s a three year old dog like she our relationship is better. We’ve had more training under our belt, but just yeah, it. It’s almost night and day from our first field season. But yeah, it’s been really fun to watch the progression.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 33:52
Yeah, well, and thank you for sharing that about Yeah, that like your first couple of days were awful. And there was a lot of work to be done, even though you’ve done so much work and done a really good job prepping her. And you had all the support you needed. And it still can be really hard and like, yeah, thank you for saying that. Because I think we don’t as a field. We don’t always admit that enough that like, yeah, yeah, she She was really pretty interested in birds and when she got bored, or the going got tough that became a competing motivator you guys really had to contend with especially that first year, but especially with maturity and time and work like it’s going a lot better.

Kayla Fratt 34:38
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Kayla Fratt (KF) 35:00
hey check out black flower writing services I cannot recommend sunny highly enough. Thanks and let’s get back to the episode. Shifting gears a little bit from that, how how did we meet tell everyone tell everyone our like Rachel and I were joking when we recorded this that it was like, if someone was giving a little speech at our at our wedding. How did we meet? Tell us don’t tell everyone about that.

Unknown Speaker 35:26
Yeah, like I like I mentioned I had found journey dog training when I was having some hiccups with Ellie’s just general obedient or just like you know, manners behaviors and things like that. She had like a little bit of reactivity or like engage disengage, so we found your look at that videos, love Leslie McDevitt. And, and actually, once we started down the path of the scent detection stuff, and had been working, like I said, with, with West and the coordinators, giving us feedback, I was trying to, you know, widen our search area from inside to the front yard to then like a park. And she was, I don’t know if it was too much too fast, but she was just a little bit disengaged. And so that’s when I quote unquote, hired Kayla, to give us some sent work help like we did the the texting and videos. So we actually, yeah, we’re using I knew she was involved with the the conservation detection dog stuff through Instagram. And so I, you know, was like, Hey, I’m trying to do this, can you give me a little pointer on what I can do to help, you know, with this issue, or we’re going through right now. So I guess that was like the beginning of our relationship. And then we got the job and, and then a little bit more down the line, then, I think the next big thing was then you also started working with West. And I mean, I guess throughout the years, we were were, you know, like internet friends, but not really face to face friends. And Rachel had been working barley in Indiana. I know, in Ohio, Indiana, Indiana, and you are all the way in Nebraska. I was in Illinois, and you’re like, Hey, we are looking for people to help get barley to me. And I was like, I know if I was separated from Ellie for three months, I would want to be reunited as soon as possible. So I’m in this middle leg to help. So I volunteered to help get Mr. Barley to Kayla. And so that was when we met at like, eight at night in a park in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. So that was our first face to face meeting.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 38:03
Yeah, gosh, I forgot that. That was the first time we met. Because yeah, we as you said we’d been kind of internet friends for so long. And like, yeah, when you I think was the first person who kind of tried to hire me to get help with conservation dog stuff. And I remember being so overwhelmed and so terrified by all of your questions, because I was like, Oh my God, I’ve done this. Like, once I’ve handled a bunch of other dogs, but I didn’t train them from scratch. Like, what am I doing? How, like, why am I why is she giving me money? And then you guys got the job and went and did well. And that was that was really nice to see. But yeah, and this was basically I think my field season ended before Rachel’s so I was going to be heading west to Colorado soon. And barley because of his spider bite or whatever it was that was going on with his leg that we talked about when Rachel was on. He wasn’t working anyway. So it was like Well, why don’t we get him reunited with me before I had West rather than Rachel and I had been planning on doing a handoff in Colorado A couple weeks later and yeah, very grateful for your help there. We had the great the great barley Underground Railroad going across the Midwest Yeah, is there anything else you because Yeah, after that we just kind of stayed in touch and got to be better and better friends from there right? I don’t remember much more beyond that. And then I don’t quite know how we ended up where we are now.

Unknown Speaker 39:35
i Yeah, I was just kind of thinking of my future in this field and it being that it seems so new like there’s there’s tons of you utilizations and uses and of the methodology for the these dogs but it’s not so widespread that you can just find a job anywhere. So I was thinking like, gosh, either I can get a job at one of these big outfits like working dog for conservation or rogue detection teams. And you know, I’m sure it’s very hard, they don’t often, you know, put out a hiring call. So it was like just waiting. Or I was like, I kind of liked the idea of kind of being my own grassroots thing, but I didn’t know a ton about starting your own organization. I also like did not have enough or felt like I did not have enough behind me to do so. And so then, when I saw Canaan, conservationists was started. I was like, dang, that is definitely what I would love to be a part of. And I don’t even think I think I don’t even think I voiced that, I think, yeah, I think Kayla was just like, this is a lot for one person to do. And we, yeah, Rachel and I somehow got got in. And we have, you know, helped. You know, now we’re all on as co founders trying to delegate so that more can get done than just having one person barely touched the surface and try and do everything. So like, when there’s more hands in the pot, you know, you can you can get get a lot more done. So I think that was the hope.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 41:24
Yeah, yeah, I can definitely confirm from my hand that it was kind of like I filed the nonprofit paperwork for canine conservationists in like March 2021. And was just like, Okay, well, now, now I’ve got nonprofit status. Now I can like now I’m ready to be able to, like go apply for grants or whatever, like, at least on paper. And on the internet, this looks like a real thing. But like, underneath, I was just kind of like panicking and behind and like missing meetings. And, you know, just I was I was very, very overwhelmed with so much of the organizational stuff. And Rachel and I had talked quite a bit about me trying to bring her on. And then I think, you know, my instinct was, and maybe this is just based on the working dogs for conservation model where they had four co founders, I was kind of like, it would be nice to have more than just the two of us. Rachel was kind of a shoo in. And then just thinking through who else we knew, or who else was in the field that, you know, we didn’t want to try to poach someone from another organization, especially and we wouldn’t have been successful because we aren’t offering paychecks. But, you know, we knew that wasn’t a route, we wanted to go, we’re really interested in collaborating with everyone else. But it wasn’t like we were going to try and steal someone from another organization. We also didn’t necessarily want to go with someone who was totally green and unproven on this, like, really important foundational level. So um, Heather was definitely the first one and most consistent one that came up for us. So I think I don’t even remember how the conversation went as far as asking you to come on. But I kind of feel like you asked if I needed help. And we’re almost volunteering. And I was like, How about instead of a volunteer? You dedicate all of your free time to this?

Unknown Speaker 43:18
Yeah, I think I was just like, surprised that you had started your own thing, and was admiring that because I, we’ve, you are clearly an orator and an educator. And that’s not my natural suit. I am more of like the strategist, which is something we also kind of realized later in the partnership, or triple, triple. Whatever it is. We realized that like we have really good strengths that balance each other out to kind of make a good foundational team. But yeah, I think I had just asked like, Yeah, how did you decide to get that started and picking your brain a little bit to see if I, there was something I could do to help get it off the ground? And I think that’s when you were like, Well, we I mean, maybe you just join, we’ll see what happens. So yeah,

Kayla Fratt (KF) 44:20
well, and I think actually like to be totally selfish, I think a little bit was that I was a little worried you were going to get permanently hired elsewhere. Because you were very much so at that point in your career where I was like, if if I don’t ask her to step up and help out like I think conservation dogs collective and Laura are going to take her or she’s going to take a permanent position with West or eventually WD foresee or Rogue is going to be hiring. So that was also potentially a little bit of I mean, all of it was selfish because I was like I need help. And we can’t I cannot do this alone. And yet when I even kind of going back to when I started canine conservationists like I didn’t feel ready to start canine conservationists. And sometimes I still don’t feel ready. But it kind of came out of necessity where I no longer had the position with WB for See, I had been in talks with Laura with conservation dogs collective about seeing if they needed help, or if I could join forces there. And it just didn’t really look like they’ve got they’ve got a lot of support. And we’re still very, very good friends. And I admire and look up to them a lot. But it wasn’t like that they weren’t going to be able to take me on anytime soon. So it’s just kind of like, well, okay, I guess I guess I gotta, like, at least on paper, need to have something that looks official enough that if I was talking to a professor, it’s not just Kayla Fratt, Inc. And then, you know, dealing with the fallout of that as far as realizing how much more work there was to do, and then trying to make it into something that wasn’t just a document and actually was a full organization. So I think that kind of brings me to maybe my last question, which is kind of what are some of the things you’re really excited about doing in the conservation dog field now? And where are you excited for us to go in the future, both as canine conservationists and as the field in general?

Unknown Speaker 46:18
Yeah, I’m just really excited to see more uses of the dogs like, what we’re trying to do is reach the ears of ecologists like we often have the dog training side. But that’s just more handlers and less jobs that we aren’t able to secure for everyone. So I think the thing I’m most excited about is just having the conservation dog methodology be something that a lot of scientists and researchers think of at the beginning of their studies, while they could be, you know, writing it into their study plan, rather than maybe waiting until it’s the last option that they have, they’ve tried all of these different methods that haven’t been successful. And then now that their funding is quite low, they try the dog method. I think the the field has has been around. But it’s still feels like it’s, it’s in its infancy of like, really reaching broader audiences and things are different, you know, people. So I think I’m just excited to see it grow, and get out there. And I mean, just in the four years that I’ve been entrenched in this world, I’ve seen a ton of growth, like there was the first i wildlife tack, conservation detection dogs specific conference, that everyone got to collaborate and share all the projects that they’ve been working on. So I think the community itself is growing, and we all are wanting to help each other because we want them the method to succeed. And we’re also in it for, you know, the environment and planet at large. That’s why we’re all doing this work. So I think the benefit of the collaboration, you know, far outweighs anything else. So that’s, I guess what I’m most excited about. I’m also excited to do different projects. Like I said, our bulk of our work has been the wind farm stuff, which has been an ideal project for Ellie and I. So, but I think exploring different either, you know, species or environments would be a fun challenge. I’m excited that we already like got our first consulting gig. And I learned I mean, we talked about it at the on the Kenya podcast, but I, I didn’t realize how much I like, kind of showing, or like, teaching. I didn’t think it came naturally. Like I remember when I first got to Kenya, I was like, talking to Edwin and I said, Yeah, I’m quieter than Kayla, which is still true.

Unknown Speaker 49:08
It’s not saying much.

Unknown Speaker 49:10
And I said, but I am gonna, like, you know, say all the things that I’m noticing and like that will, you know, let me know if I’m talking too much, or if she’s talked about at all, but he was like, No, I want to learn everything. So by the end of the time that I was with them, he was he was like, Yeah, I first thought you were quiet, but you are not. And I was like, oh, okay, good to know. I’m not as quiet as I think I am. So um,

Unknown Speaker 49:40
that sounds like Edward just telling it. Exactly. He’s a very direct fella.

Unknown Speaker 49:47
So I guess Yeah, I think my whole thing is that I don’t think I have the knowledge as much knowledge or it’s like a little bit of impostor syndrome, but it’s more of you don’t realize how much You absorb or how much I’ve learned? I? Yeah, just being in it for four years now it feels like it’s not enough. But at the same time, it’s, you’ve learned quite a bit. And if I look back at where I started, like, I would have loved to have, you know, me to look at to give me some sort of direction to how how to progress within the field and things like that. So, yeah, I don’t know.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 50:31
No, I think that makes a lot of sense. And I think one of the things that is, yeah, so exciting and valuable about the field is how much it’s growing right now. And that there, it does seem like, potentially, we’re in a little bit of a second wave where there are more people who have, there’s quite a few groups and folks who, including a lot of the people we’ve had on this podcast, who have maybe been in the field for kind of three to five years. And I think that’s a really useful model for people who want to get into the field because I know Yeah, like 434 or five years ago, when you and I were both trying to get into this field. There. I felt like I was kind of looking at the models and being like, oh my gosh, okay. There’s like Sam Wasser and Heath Smith and Meg Parker and Deb Willa. And like, they’ve all been doing this for 20 years. Like, I don’t know if the roadmap that they made is applicable for how I am going to go forward. And, you know, like, they definitely were like the big trailblazers and helped so much. And it seems like there’s kind of another wave coming through that hopefully, at least the way that we did it three, four or five years ago is a little bit more helpful for the people who are trying to do it. Right now. Yeah, well, I think is there anything else that I didn’t ask you about? Or that you wanted to circle back to? to kind of wrap up?

Unknown Speaker 52:01
No, I think we literally covered as much as I can. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 52:05
Well, excellent. Well, thank you so much for being a part of canine conservationists, we couldn’t do what we do without you. And for coming on the podcast. Maybe we’ll hear more from Rachel and Heather. In the future. I’m going to try not to bully them into podcasting if they don’t want to, or putting more on their plates. But I do know that both Heather and Rachel are doing so much work for canine conservationists, even if I’m the one whose voice you hear every week. For everyone who’s listening, you can support us in the work that we’re doing by heading over to Canine there you can check out our merch shop you can just straight up donate to us, you can join Patreon where we have book clubs and coaching calls, and one on one calls and all sorts of amazing stuff. You hear about it in the ads every week. And in the meantime, go ahead and get outside with your dog and be a canine cancer conservationist and whatever way suits your passions and skill set. We will talk to you again next week.

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