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These pooches and their pet parents have embarked on a mission to make the world a cleaner place, and are making a difference one piece of trash at a time. Based in the Netherlands, Joy and Bas are the Labrador retrievers (and heroes!) behind Enjoy Cleaning Up. Alex van Eck, dog dad and founder of the nonprofit, tells Daily Paws that the idea to start the organization came following a family vacation, when he'd noticed all the trash left behind by beachgoers. He decided to do something about all the litter.
Van Eck began picking up trash during his walks with his dog Joy, even training her to search and retrieve plastic bottles herself. Once she'd mastered that trick, the duo expanded to finding cans and packs of drinks. Searching for litter on their hikes quickly became more than a hobby—they would collect everything they find on their walks in a doggie backpack, and then recycle what they found afterward.
Van Eck tells Daily Paws that the idea to form an official organization started as a way to encourage others to make a difference with their dogs in their neighborhoods. He says that by including your dog with you as you pick up litter, it becomes a fun activity and not one that can often feel depressing, since finding all that trash people leave behind can be a bummer.
"If you are cleaning up all by yourself without any dog, it feels a little bit sad—like walking alone." But if you tackle tidying-up with your pup, he says the task can be fun for both human and doggo. The mission they share with others is that making a difference in your neighborhood can be enjoyable—especially when you're working side-by-side with man's best friend!
Van Eck describes Joy as having a "laid-back" demeanor, and says their work cleaning up the environment gives her a feeling of importance. "When she finds something, you will see in the dog, she's more happy, she's higher on her own feet, smiling more and more."
Teaching your dog skills you can perform together through positive reinforcement—like how to sit, shake, play fetch, and even retrieve plastic bottles—can be a great way to exercise your pup mentally and physically. "Positive reinforcement training creates an opportunity for a shared dialogue, building a bond based on mutual understanding," Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, RBT, and Daily Paws' editor of pet health and behavior, says.
As the twosome tackled more and more cleanup jobs, van Eck realized that Joy could not do the mission alone. They added another member to their team, a black lab named Bas who van Eck describes as "completely all over the place." The pooch was surrendered to the vet clinic where his wife works after his original owners were unable to care for the dog any longer. "My wife called me and asked me, 'Can we take care of this dog for just a couple of weeks?' I said OK, and just for a couple of weeks. No worries."
After only a few hours of spending time with Bas, it was clear he was there to stay. The pooch quickly learned to pull his weight within the organization, and learned to search and retrieve tin cans (Joy specializes in plastic bottles). Both have their own role within the NGO and have now inspired other pups and owners around the globe.
If you'd like to join the Enjoy Cleaning Up team with your own four-legged environmental hero, van Eck shares some tips for teaching your dog to find and retrieve items like plastic bottles on his website. He says to have your pup look for one type of item so that they can focus on getting those, like just plastic bottles (like Joy does). Begin training them using a high value treat (van Eck uses a small piece of bologna) placed inside the bottle. Make sure they see and can smell the snack as it's placed inside the bottle, and give it a short toss. When they retrieve the item successfully, offer the treat from inside the container as a reward to reinforce the desired behavior.
Since they started picking up trash, this environmental dream-team has spread their good-doings across the globe. Over 500 dog owners in 12 countries have signed up to be local heroes, cleaning up trash in their own communities. Huge kudos to doggie do-gooders Joy and Bas—and major props to van Eck for putting his dream into action and inspiring others to leash up and make the world a better place. Talk about paw-sitivity!