Mocha is the last-chance dog.

The young mutt has spent most of her life bouncing between shelters and homes on the East Coast.

“She’s got a lot of the signs of having been abused,” said Megan Parker, co-founder of Working Dogs for Conservation. “She had run out of homes.”

But Mocha seemed right at home with Parker, joyfully playing with a chew toy and rubbing up to Parker for a little affection.

Mocha is one of three dogs that arrived in Bozeman from Virginia a week ago. They will spend months being trained before being sent to Africa and Vietnam to help in the fight against animal trafficking.

“They’re at the start of this awesome adventure,” Parker said.

Working Dogs for Conservation, a Three Forks-based organization that began in 2000, has trained more than 35 dogs to use their detection skills in conservation work. Many of those dogs are rescued from shelters.

Their work includes sniffing out invasive plants, insects and fish, or detecting ammunition, guns, snares, and ivory and rhino horns.

“They can do pretty much everything we’ve ever asked of them,” said Pete Coppolillo, WDC executive director.

Clients and partners of the organization include numerous state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private businesses across the globe.

This year, WDC plans on training 11 new dogs to help combat animal trafficking.

“It’s a lot, but it’s important,” Coppolillo said.

Last week, Mocha along with Earl and Chai were transported from Virginia to Montana to become the organization’s latest pooches to begin training.

Earl and Chai are mixed Dutch and German shepherds, donated to WDC by a deputy sheriff in Virginia, while Mocha is from a shelter.

“This is our breakfast drink collection,” Parker said with a laugh. She described the dogs as “stunning, high energy” and “loaded with personality.”

The three dogs were driven from Virginia to Wisconsin, where they were picked up and brought back to Montana, arriving on Monday afternoon.

“Everyone was ecstatic,” Parker said.

The three dogs will be housed at Kennels West and trained by Parker.

WDC looks at roughly 1,500 dogs nationwide before finding one that is a candidate.

It will only take about two weeks with the dogs to know if they will be successful at detection work, which not all dogs are cut out for.

“A lot of guys fail out for one reason or another. It’s not for them,” Parker said. But those dogs are given to a good home.

Parker is excited for the future of the latest arrivals.

“They have all the things that make them easier to work with,” she said.

In an effort to connect organizations and agencies nationwide to their dogs, WDC will be launching a new website next month called Rescues to the Rescue.

A partnership with International Fund for Animal Welfare, the site will help train animal shelter staff on how to recognize dogs that are potential candidates for detection work. The site will include videos to show how to screen dogs and serve as a place professionals can log on to find skilled dogs.

“We’re a Montana organization, but we’ve having a global impact,” Coppolillo said. “This project is key to that.”

For more information on Working Dogs of Conservation, visit

Whitney Bermes can be reached at or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Whitney Bermes is the city editor and covers cops and courts for the Chronicle.