A home, a job and a call­ing

Selwyn and Ashburton Outlook - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW SALMONS

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.

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