Guard dogs keep unwanted predators out of zoo
March 8, 2011 at 8:02 p.m.
Updated March 7, 2011 at 9:08 p.m.
For the Texas Zoo's new night security guards, chasing off hungry raccoons and co-existing with squawking guinea hens are all just a part of a day's work.
Sarge and Jazz, who are a brother and sister pair of Great Pyrenees, officially started their jobs as night security guards on Saturday.
"They guard the zoo not from people coming, but they guard the animals from natural predators," said Andrea Blomberg, zoo executive director. "It's our job to keep the animals safe."
Talks to bring in canine security guards started in early February when zoo staff met to discuss the influx of unwanted predators in the zoo, said Blomberg.
The zoo's location in the middle of Riverside Park, left some animals vulnerable to attacks from snakes, bobcats and raccoons.
"Raccoons are opportunistic," said Blomberg, who added the zoo lost two birds to predators in 2010. "They are going to go where they can find food."
Taking a cue from the Austin Zoo, the decision was soon made to acquire guard dogs.
"We knew we couldn't bring just any type of dog into the zoo," said Blomberg. "We needed dogs that knew not to attack the animals that were supposed to be here and guard them."
Zoo staff decided upon Great Pyrenees, who sleep all day, are bred and raised to guard livestock, and who also have an excellent demeanor around humans.
Not long after getting in contact with the Texas Great Pyrenees Rescue, Blomberg learned about Sarge and Jazz.
The furry, white siblings had been living on an Austin Ranch where they guarded turkeys.
Finalizing the adoption, however, was not an easy venture.
"We have always been leery about a company owning a dog," said Becky Petrosky, vice president and Dallas/Fort Worth coordinator for rescue program. "It was because of who Andrea was. We felt very strong about the relationship she has with the dogs. All of those components helped to develop this situation."
Sarge and Jazz, who will be 2 years old in May, arrived at the zoo on Feb. 22 and have been in training until Saturday.
Their training consisted of learning their patrol routes as well as familiarizing themselves with the zoo's inhabitants.
While the dogs will protect the guinea hens, peacocks and other smaller animals who reside in potentially vulnerable exhibits such as the lemurs and tamarins, they do not have to worry about protecting the larger animals such as the lions, tigers, baboons, who are all tucked away in their bedrooms at night.
"They are still adjusting," said Blomberg. "But they know what their rounds are and what they are supposed to be protecting."
She added, "We love having them around. They are big and fun to hug."
Guarding the animals is not all work and no play for 100-pound Sarge and 70-pound Jazz.
When the dogs are not having staring contests with the goats, they entertain themselves with some of the other residents.
"I think the coyotes have fun teasing the dogs, running back and forth," Blomberg chuckled.
The dogs will most likely not be seen by the general zoo public, as they sleep in the administrative building during the day and work after the zoo is closed to the public.
Petrosky is not only pleased that the dogs have found a new good home, but also that they are helping to get the word out about the rescue program.
"I know for a fact that they will be educating kids and adults alike in regards to the art of rescue, neutering and spaying and the Great Pyrenees breed, said Petrosky. Sarge and Jazz are excellent ambassadors of the Great Pyrenees breeds and TGPR."
She added, "I'm excited about opening up people's eyes to these dogs. They are great livestock dogs and they make great house pets."