Back in 2012 an unusual news story crossed my path. Dogs were brought to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York to help scientists study the moose population. Dogs? Moose? I read on. These dogs were special—they used their noses. That was certainly a different tool for these wildlife biologists!
Having grown up in New York State and working in environmental education, I was well acquainted with the plight of our moose population. By the 1980s it was nonexistent, but recently it had begun to climb. Scientists wanted to find out the scoop on the moose. And in order to do this they needed to study their poop. Funny, right?
Poop, or scat as it is spoken of in polite scientific circles, can tell us a lot about an organism. And these dogs had the nose for finding it! And so began my research. Who were these dogs? Were there others? And, most importantly, how did they do this?
I found out there were other dogs helping conservation scientists. Tucker, a lab mix, sniffed out whale scat in the ocean. Tia was on the trail of invasive snails in Hawaii. The best part of these stories was that the dogs were all rescue animals, given a second chance.
Those initial stories made me even more curious. (All scientists and nonfiction authors know that every question ultimately leads to more questions.) I had a great time researching this book. Meeting dogs who could sniff out a single human tooth in an open field or recognize a change in the sugar levels of a human’s blood was an adventure.
What began as a spark of an idea from a local news article led me down an extraordinary research path and ultimately to the publication of Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World.
My upcoming book, The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and Why There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, is a very different topic but required just as much sniffing around on my part. Instead of dogs, I visited gardens and seed banks as far away as Russia. Hurrah for research! It introduces us to new elements of the world and makes life exciting!
Nancy Castaldo is the author of a dozen books for young readers—most of her writing is non-fiction with a strong focus on the natural world. Her titles have received many awards and honors, including a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children and the New York State Outdoor Education Association’s Art and Literature award. To learn more about Nancy and her books, visit www.nancycastaldo.com.