KYOKO JOHNSON - FOUNDER & K9 TRAINER/INSTRUCTOR
Kyoko has been training dogs and their people in Hawai‘i since 2008. Her love of dogs came from volunteering for various dog rescue organizations and shelters on the island. Since beginning her dog training career, she has earned various professional training and instructor certifications, including through Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Karen Pryor Academy, and National Association of Canine Scent Work.
Her passion for scent detection began with a pet dog named Luka (pictured left) that didn't like normal dog activities such as fetch, swimming and playing with other dogs, but absolutely loved and gained confidence through "nose work." Since then, Kyoko has trained numerous pet dogs and handlers in scent detection.
Kyoko began her career as an ecological scent detection dog trainer and handler in 2012 through an O‘ahu wind farm's habitat conservation program, which utilized canines to locate endangered seabird and bat fatalities to measure environmental impact. She went on to train and handle dogs for various conservation projects including: a study at Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge which measured the efficacy of utilizing detection dogs to lower avian botulism-related mortality in Koloa Maoli, an endangered Hawaiian duck; and a project that utilized detector dogs to monitor the eradication effort of invasive yellow crazy ants, a species that caused great harm to seabirds at Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Kyoko continues to operate her private business Country Canine LLC in addition to serving as lead K9 trainer of Conservation Dogs of Hawai‘i.
ROBERTA BITZER - K9 TRAINER/INSTRUCTOR
Roberta has been a dog handler and trainer with CDH since 2019. She and her dog Qana are founding members of CDH's invasive species detection program. Roberta has also provided her expertise to develop CDH's new programs, and has participated in assessing and selecting shelter dogs for Guam Department of Agriculture's biosecurity K9 program. Outside of CDH, Roberta is the K9 team lead at the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Response Team, a collaborative partnership with Hawai‘i conservation organizations that aims to eradicate the invasive insect from Hawai'i. As part of her position, Roberta supports the K9 teams with planning, record/data keeping, developing SOPs, training and surveying.
In addition to her K9 background, Roberta has a bachelors degree in biology and a masters in environmental sciences, and has over a decade of experience as an environmental consultant on the island of O‘ahu.
SHEILA CONANT - SCIENCE ADVISOR
Sheila's career in ecology and conservation in Hawai‘i has spanned over 50 years. At the University of Hawai‘i Mānoa, she served as the Chair of Zoology Department from 2001 to 2007, and as the Chair of the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB) graduate specialization program from 1999 to 2001. As a researcher, she focused on Hawaiian birds, and has an extensive list of publications on their ecology, evolution, conservation and management. Sheila is also a Professor Emerita of UH, and her list of former graduate students includes many who are currently active and influential in the conservation of Hawai‘i‘s wildlife.
In addition to her impressive academic career, Sheila is a long-time dog enthusiast. In the early 2000s when the use of conservation dogs was unheard of in Hawai‘i, Sheila trained her Border Collies to do seabird detection, and later went on to conduct a few field surveys with them. Sheila has also participated in numerous dog sports including obedience, tracking, agility (with four dogs!), nose work, herding, and conformation. She has also served as a judge for tracking and obedience trials.
JULIE RIVERS - SCIENCE ADVISOR & K9 HANDLER
Julie’s experience in animal behavior and conservation spans more than 30 years. She has a BS in Biology with a focus on animal behavior. During her field research years, Julie studied seabirds, arctic wildlife from an oil drill platform, marine mammal behavior, distribution and acoustics in several ocean basins, and briefly worked with Koko the gorilla. Julie also worked for the state of Hawai‘i, maintaining O‘ahu’s hiking trails and working to combat invasive species. For the last 20 years, Julie has worked as biologist with the federal government, overseeing programs that focus on the protection of vulnerable marine and terrestrial species, and regulatory compliance.
Julie’s interest in scent detection started in 2017 when one of her Labrador Retrievers began to lose her eyesight and they began nose work classes. Both of her dogs enjoyed scent detection as a hobby from then on, turning their skills to amateur truffle hunting from 2018-2020 when they moved to Italy. When Julie returned to O‘ahu in 2020, she and her dog Ula joined CDH as a volunteer scent detection team. They are avid hikers and have been actively searching for devil weed on O‘ahu for the past two years, and look forward to expanding into other projects with CDH.
TERI ROLPH - K9 TRAINER/INSTRUCTOR
Teri Rolph is the owner and lead dog trainer of Pawsitive Pals Plus based on Hawai‘i island. She has also been a teacher and behavior specialist throughout her professional career as a Speech Pathologist. Her path to dog training evolved from behavior analysis with people to using the same techniques with animals.
Teri is a certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work, and has been coaching dog-handler teams on scent detection skills for three years. She loves helping owners and their dogs become fluid working teams. In addition to coaching dog teams, Teri and her own dogs have participated in scent work competitions, and a research study on scent detection that was conducted by the US Naval Research Laboratory.
Teri has additional professional certifications through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Karen Pryor Academy, Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute, and University of Tennessee (Certified Canine Fitness Trainer), among others.
Teri is based on the leeward side of the Big Island, and her family has been in the islands for generations. She feels that all of us are here to protect and preserve our ‘āina. She knows detection dogs can make a difference through the mission of CDH.
DEBRA GOCHROS - K9 TRAINER/HANDLER
Debra has been an animal lover since her childhood in Colorado, where she got involved with exotic animal training for motion pictures, and the rehabilitation and research of wild hawks, owls, and eagles. Debra has lived on Kaua‘i since 1980, and spent many years as a middle school science teacher. She involved the students in conservation projects while teaching them the importance of protecting native plants and animals of Hawaiʻi. She focused on turning students into science nerds by getting them involved in such things as butterfly houses, shearwater projects and garden clubs.
Debra spent a few years on O‘ahu in the early 90s and graduated from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a degree in Secondary Education with a focus in Science, while working full time as a reptile keeper at the Honolulu Zoo.
In 2003 Debra joined Kauaʻi K9 Search and Rescue and trained and certified (SAR TECH II) along with her dog Astro to become a wilderness search dog team. They helped in searches with missing hikers, families lost in a flood, lost Alhzeimers patients, and others in need of assistance.
In 2020, as part of a US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) program, Debra trained her dogs, Luna and Xena, to detect native wetland birds affected by avian botulism. To this day, Debra and her dogs make weekly visits to the taro fields of Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge to survey for wetland birds affected by botulism. In 2023 Luna and Xena were awarded 250 hour volunteer pins from FWS for their dedicated service, and Debra received the Volunteer of the Year award.
Currently Debra volunteers for a variety of groups: Conservation dog handler for FWS; Wildlife interpretation at Kīlauea Point for FWS; Albatross in the Schools program for FWS; Vice President for Friends of Kauaʻi Wildlife Refuges; Communications for Kauaʻi Search and Rescue; HAM radio operator for the north shore of Kauaʻi; and now a board member of Conservation Dogs of Hawaiʻi. Debra also received the 2022 Mea Hoʻomanaʻo award from the Kauaʻi Chamber of Commerce for her volunteering service.
LISA KAMAE - K9 TRAINER/HANDLER
Lisa was born and raised in Hawai‘i and graduated from Kamehameha Schools. She received a BBA in Finance from University of Hawai‘i Mānoa and an MS in Software Engineering from the University of California at Fullerton. During the day, she works in the IT department at Pearl Harbor, and at night she turns into a “Crazy Dog Lady.”
Learning about K9 agility, herding, chicken training, scent work, canine body language, animal communication, and K9 Search and Rescue, culminated in her participation in Conservation Dogs of Hawai‘i. She is very passionate about using Hawai‘i resources to solve Hawai‘i problems – she believes that CDH is a perfect solution in using local resources including dogs, personnel and volunteers, to help save Hawai‘i’s resources.
Lisa is spearheading CDH's biosecurity program on O‘ahu.
We have a constantly changing and growing lineup of dog & handler teams. Below are dogs from past and current projects.
Thumbnail photos 2 and 4 by Chipperton Photography