Animals Helping Animals

Sniffers: An Innovative Field Program

Giving unwanted dogs and the world's most feared animal a chance... at the same time!

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For over five years, Shark Angels has been taking innovative approaches to tackling one of the biggest issues in the ocean. Founder Julie Andersen has made it her life’s mission to save the very animals that people not only fear in the ocean – but want to destroy. Learning from her first experience with a shark when she was only 20 years old, she realized these animals were not man-eaters… but man was eating them. Traveling around the world into some of the most remote places in the world, she’s found herself at the heart of the dark and dangerous shark fin trade. Over 73 million sharks a year are slaughtered for their fins. At this rate, many species will be wiped out in less than a decade. “Love them or hate them, we need them on the planet,” says Andersen. The sharks are in desperate need of help, and we guardian angels just might be their only hope.”

“We are at war on the last frontier. Wherever there is a coastline, sharks are under attack. It is time to get creative and fight the battles no one else is willing to fight with some seriously innovative tactics.” 

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The Recruit:  Brandon McMillan
As the son of a wild animal trainer, McMillan learned to work with all animals when he was just three – with a particular love for toothy feline predators. Growing up training for his father’s animal act, he thought everyone lived with lions, bears and rhinos. McMillan perfected his trade as an adolescent and moved on from the circus to train animals for Hollywood movies. He also began training celebrity dogs – applying the skills he garnered from big cat training towards household pets. It wasn’t long before he started rescuing dogs from local shelters and training them as animal actors on the side – giving them a new lease on life.

Though a tough-looking McMillan has always had a soft spot in his heart for the downtrodden. “Animals have played such an important role in my life – from serving as my income, to being my family, to helping me develop and explore my passions, so of course I want to create a legacy – and give back whatever I can. Far less than they have given me.”

The Mission:  
Over a year ago, Andersen and McMillan met, and became fast friends – united in their love for adventure, travel and of course, predators. It wasn’t long before they realized that they were the perfect team – Julie the innovative marketer, conservationist and shark enthusiast – Brandon the survivor, adventurer and animal expert. 

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Together, they have joined forces to take on one of the most daunting missions on the planet.

They say the most powerful antigen in human biology is a new idea. It wasn’t long before this unlikely duo came up with an innovative new idea to fight the battle. 

Their mission? Rescue a group of unwanted but promising recruits from the local pounds, enroll them in an intensive and completely unique three month training  program and hopefully, create a small team of elite “Fin Sniffing Dogs” that can be dispatched in countries around the world.  They’ve developed the strategy from the ground up, from finding the dogs, narrowing the field from the initial recruits of 20 to 5,  dispatching them, caring and training for them, ensuring their good working conditions, and placing them in some of the most corrupt and dangerous places in the world – to end a trade that is as dangerous and profitable as illegal drugs and guns. Never before has such a program been attempted. Unwanted man’s best friend is how it will be done. 

“Dogs noses are 25 times more powerful than a human’s. They can sniff out things that we have no idea is there,” says McMillan. 

The team has designed the plan which takes the dogs welfare into the forefront – ensuring they are loved and well-cared for from the start to their retirement (their working lives are short – only 5 – 7 years.) The program entails finding and training dogs locally, an adoption program for those dogs who are not cut out for detection, an overseas certification, training and ongoing monitoring plan, and an early retirement plan for the pups. McMillian has spent years developing the perfect habitats for dogs – they’ll do the same no matter where the dogs are placed.

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They hope to expand the program to other marine products (giant clams, sea cucumbers, etc) as well as the endangered species pet trade. To augment their skills, they have enlisted a group of experts from animal welfare, law enforcement, customs, animal training and shark conservation - with a diverse background whose combined knowledge and skills give them what it takes to get the job done.  “We are combining proven methodologies from several different disciplines, I truly believe we have got an amazing program that will help dogs, sharks and the oceans. Now all we need is some funding. We are ready to go!” Says Andersen.

A chance meeting between this unlikely duo changed both of their lives forever. And hopefully, the future of not just several abandoned dogs, but sharks around the world.