LOS ANGELES — They've got badges and campouts, cookie drives and troops in 22 states. The Dog Scouts of America even has a motto or two as the half-human, half-hound organization goes about the business of doing good deeds.
One of the first badges for Jasper, a 3-year-old collie-lab mix, was disaster preparedness. After all, he lives with Robert and Misti Verdahl in Milpitas, southeast of San Francisco, where you have to be aware of earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Jasper and his humans belong to Troop 198 in Santa Clara and have earned 18 badges altogether. Each, the humans said, has made him a better dog.
"We go outside and I know he's going to be safe," Verdahl said. "If there's an emergency, I know he will listen to me."
There are 682 Dog Scouts who belong to 38 troops across the country. The organization has around 80 badges, but not all dogs can earn all badges, said DSA President Chris Puls of Brookville, Ind.
One of her dogs, a 3-year-old Malinois named Dazzle, is 24-inches high and had to jump twice his height to get his jumping badge, for instance. Long or heavy dogs aren't really suited to that.
"If it's not safe, we don't want you trying for it," Puls said.
Dogs are not required to earn badges beyond the first one, for basic obedience and appropriately called the Dog Scout badge.
The organization was founded by Lonnie Olson 13 years ago. Membership is $25 a year.
Kozette, Olson's boxer mix nicknamed "Kozi," is a model Scout with about 45 badges.
Community service is part of any good Scout program, Olson said. The DSA members make about $10,000 a year for the Salvation Army and participate in several Christmas projects. Most troops also work with local groups to do whatever is needed in their hometowns.
Olson's 80-acre St. Helen, Mich., property is converted into one of numerous weeklong camps every summer. Puls is a former police officer who teaches and certifies badges at all the camps.
She has three dogs who have earned 122 badges between them. One, a 12-year-old cattle dog named Coyote, is retired with 48 badges.
Because cattle dogs often go deaf, Puls and Coyote worked hard on the sign language badge. Then Coyote went blind instead of deaf.
More than a decade ago, the Scouts decided to sell human-grade, dog-safe cookies, she said, but the group took a break from cookie sales to streamline operations.
Verdahl joined DSA because he'd taught Jasper everything he knew and the dog wanted more.
Jasper could put laundry in the washer and (plastic) dishes in the dishwasher. He could stack bowls, open blinds, flip a light switch and open a door, Verdahl said.
There is no housekeeping badge, but Verdahl figures Jasper can qualify for about 50 badges that are available.
The family's favorite so far is geocaching, an online treasure hunt in which players try to locate hidden containers or geocaches using GPS devices.
"Geocaching has taken us all over the place. We are experiencing things in our local area we never knew existed," he said.
Who has done more work to get the badges? "Me for sure. It's all play for him," said Verdahl, a nurse.
He said he and his wife are healthier because of Scouts. "I haven't lost any weight but my enjoyment in life has increased, I laugh and smile more."
Many badges are earned in camp. All of Jasper's were submitted on videotape because he is far from the nearest camp. He holds the record for videotape badges, Olson said.
But there are some he can't claim because he doesn't have the obstacle courses or water parks.
In the water, dogs can be puppy paddlers, beach buddies or boaters. They can qualify in rescue, racing or retrieval. Puls said one of the Scout pairs who started dock diving in camp have gone on to compete nationally.
The earth dog badge, mostly for terriers, is awarded if a dog stays focused while chasing a (protected) rat into an 8-foot earth tunnel, negotiates a 90-degree turn and continues the chase through another 8-foot tunnel without losing interest in the quarry.
"These are not 'gimme' badges, not a walk in the park," Puls said. "A dog with a lot of badges has put a lot of time and training into it."
The Scouts have two mottos. For humans: "Our dogs' lives are much shorter than our own. We should help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can." For dogs: "Let us learn new things that we become more helpful."
Both serve as inspiration for the group's grossest badge: "Clean Up America."
It consists of picking up piles left behind by other dogs on trails, parks and beaches.
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