A home, a job and a calling
American Foul Brood (AFB) corrupts and destroys bee hives all over the country, but thanks to a group of rescue dogs, it’s becoming easier to detect.
Gowenleagold Honey’s Richelle Doerner-Corson, of Windwhistle, said the idea came after she and husband James purchased AFB infected hives.
The highly infectious and hardy AFB spores and ‘‘brown snot gunk’’ fouled honey, caused hives to stink and ultimately killed them. After struggling with the infection, it struck her that dogs could detect drugs, money and food, so why not AFB?
She approached experienced dog trainer Rene Gloor, who jumped at the chance to be the first in New Zealand to try it.
‘‘The first time we put Jesse around live hives here with Rene, she indicated on a hive and James said ‘no way, no way has that got AFB’.’’
The hive was ‘‘boiling with bees’’ and healthy looking. After a half hour search, James turned up a single infected honeycomb cell.
She said the dogs were so effective they could mark hives for spores up to three years before AFB symptoms appeared.
She and Gloor formed Gowenleagold Detective Dogs (GDD) when word got out and requests came in. They trained more dogs and began checking hives for clients around New Zealand. To detect AFB, they would take the dogs out at night to avoid stings. Being in dark, unfamiliar paddocks made the job difficult.
‘‘They’re not 100 per cent but they’re pretty damn good. If the beekeeper misses it the dog gets it and vice versa,’’ Doerner-Corson said.
Although it was exciting for her when the dogs successfully picked up on AFB, she said it was hard giving the news to beekeepers. The dogs’ success was both devastating and exciting ‘‘mixed into one’’.
She did not recommend burning every hive a dog marked, but urged beekeepers to closely monitor them just in case.
‘‘It might not show for a few months. Burn it when you see it. ‘‘
Sterilising infected tools and equipment was difficult and effectiveness was hard to confirm. If Doerner-Corson found infected equipment around her own hives, she burnt it.
Any young rescue dog could undergo the year long training to become an AFB detector, the only requirement was a high playdrive. Potential dog handlers also needed training and ongoing support.
‘‘What we hope for the dogs is to be in a family situation while working at night. Dog welfare is everything for us,’’ DoernerCorson said.
She hoped to see more detector dogs in future, to help in the national fight against AFB. GDD were working on getting scientific accreditation for their dogs.
‘‘They're not 100 per cent but they're pretty damn good.’’ Richelle Doerner-Corson
Richelle Doerner-Corson and Jesse.
Georgie on the job.