Although she only works part time at Glacier National Park in Montana, Gracie is one of the most well-known employees around. Aside from her striking good looks and above-average intelligence, she’s incredibly friendly and charismatic. She’s also a fantastic herder, which is worth mentioning since this “Bark Ranger” happens to be a Border Collie.
While it may be news to some, service dogs have been a part of the national parks system for some time. The Border Collie “geese police” of the National Mall in Washington D.C. have helped disperse geese for years, while other parks use dogs for more dangerous animals.
“Karelian Bear Dogs are a great example,” says Lauren Alley, public affairs officer for Glacier National Park. “They’re trained in bear management to make sure wild animals stay where they’re supposed to be.”
The same goes for Gracie, who’s no stranger to wrangling up larger animals herself. Although Glacier National Park is home to all sorts of wild animals, she typically doesn’t have to deal with too many bears.
“She primarily herds bighorn sheep and mountain goats, preventing them from getting too close to the visitors,” Alley says. “She’s very well trained and only herds when instructed to, typically starting her day during the early afternoon and working into the evening.”
Entering her second year of employment at Glacier, Gracie is currently taking part in a brief refresher course at the Wind River Bear Institute before getting back to work. Since she’s only three years old, additional training from time to time helps keep Gracie focused on her work.
“It’s quite a process that requires extensive training to get where she is,” Alley says. “The training will be focused on verbal commands, herding skills, and social interaction with humans and animals alike.”
When the workday is over, Gracie goes home with handler and owner Mark Biel, the natural resources program manager for the park. Off the clock, this hardworking pup enjoys the same simple pleasures as her unemployed peers.
“She loves playing ball, enjoys a nice long walk and just generally enjoys meeting new people,” says Alley. “She really leads a pretty normal life and is very beloved by everyone she encounters.”
Considering how successful Gracie’s been as the park’s bark ranger, Glacier National Park would ideally like to train more canine employees down the line. But as of now, they’re comfortable with letting her be the top dog.
“We’ve had other employees volunteer to house the next ‘Bark Ranger,’ but a lot more goes into it than that,” Alley says. “It’s something we’d like to explore, but that kind of extensive training takes additional funding.”
Not only does she charm everyone she meets at the park, Gracie’s become quite the internet star since her story broke. One look at her Instagram page makes it quite obvious why she’s so popular.
“She’s always getting compliments on her eyes,” says Alley. “She’s just as popular online as she is in person.”
But don’t let her newfound stardom make you think she’s nothing more than a gimmick. Alley and the rest of the staff agree that Gracie’s an integral part of the team and her work shouldn’t be overlooked by the fact that she’s a dog.
“She’s done such a fantastic job not only with the wildlife, but with the visitors,” says Alley. “Everyone wants to meet her and has questions about her, but at the end of the day, she’s helping us educate the visitors about park safety.”