Dogs do more than their fair share when it comes to helping threatened species, from rare tortoises and endangered rhinos to elusive bat colonies. And even when they're not acting in an "official" capacity, canines can use their keen senses to carry out some amazing animal rescues: like saving a bald eagle in trouble.

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Kenai's eagle-spotting senses tingle. Image courtesy of Wildwoods. 

Three-year-old golden retriever Kenai was roaming some riverside trails in Minnesota with her owner recently when her keen senses picked up on something intriguing: a bald eagle sitting in the brush. The dog's excited barks soon alerted her owner, but not before the eagle had hopped away towards the water.

“[Kenai] fortunately has been trained not to chase wildlife. Once she alerted me and I saw what she was looking at she stopped barking,” owner Kerrie Burns tells GrindTV.

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The bird was obviously injured and didn't fly off when approached. Image courtesy of Wildwoods. 
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Image courtesy of Wildwoods. 

Clearly injured, the large bird did not fly off when approached, and continued hopping along towards the shoreline instead. With daylight fading, Burns and a friend resolved to return to the same spot the next morning to see if they could help. 

The following day, telltale tracks in the snow led the duo to the injured eagle, and the bird was eventually captured with the help of local wildlife officials. The avian patient was then transported to the nearby Wildwoods wildlife rehabilitation centre. 

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The eagle's tracks were clearly visible in the snow. Image courtesy of Wildwoods. 

Wildwoods staff managed to thaw out the eagle's frozen feathers, and administer fluids and pain medication.

"Our exam showed a shoulder injury, which we thought was likely fixable. And of course, like most eagles we get this time of year (during and after deer hunting season), we strongly suspected lead poisoning," says the team in a Facebook update.

Their suspicion proved to be correct. Bald eagles rely heavily on carrion as a food source during the winter months, and sadly, many are sickened after scavenging carcasses that have been riddled with toxic lead bullets. 

And it's not just bald eagles who are harmed. According to some estimates, up to 20 million birds and other animals die from exposure to the metal, prompting many conservation organisations to push for a ban on the use of lead ammunition in wildlife refuges and national parks across the US. 

“Lead ammunition continues to kill long after it leaves the gun barrel. Lead-free alternatives are available, affordable and sensible," says Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle.

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The bird was finally captured with some help from local wildlife officials. Image courtesy of Wildwoods. 
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The patient gets some emergency care at Wildwoods. Image courtesy of Wildwoods. 

Fortunately, this particular patient managed to reach a wildlife hospital in time – many other birds die of acute lead poisoning without ever getting help. 

"Lead has harmful effects on many organs, especially the brain and nervous system. Affected eagles have slower reaction times and are more likely to get hit by cars, land clumsily and hurt themselves, or ... become unable to fly and just starve to death on the ground," explains the Wildwoods team.

The bird has since been moved to a specialist raptor centre for ongoing care. Since treatment for lead poisoning can take many months (depending on the severity of exposure), this is just the start of its road to recovery, but the team is cautiously optimistic. 

And a share of the credit for that has to go to Kenai and her super-senses. 


Top header image: Paul Malinowski, Flickr