Agriculture Department’s Canine Apiary Inspector Passes Certification Test
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Despite his good looks and charming ways, Mack’s life didn’t start out so good. He was kept in a garage without much attention and less care. Today, Mack is the fifth dog in state history to work at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, searching and sniffing out diseases in bee hives – thanks in large part to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Mack, a 2-year-old, 74-pound yellow Labrador retriever was rescued by Apiary Inspector Cybil Preston after “friends of friends of friends” told her about the dog in the garage. She had already started looking for a dog to train but she hadn’t yet found the perfect one. Then she met Mack.
“He needed to get out of that garage and I needed a trainable dog,” she said. “It was fate.”
Mack began basic obedience training the day Cybil took him home – something the wild pup needed. The Maryland Department of Agriculture then asked the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services K-9 trainers to assist in training and certifying Cybil and Mack as an American Foulbrood detection team, inspecting honey bee hives for the disease. When the K-9 handlers met Mack last March, they thought he might be a little too laid back and fun-loving for real work, so they gave Cybil some drills to work on.
They did so well that by July, Mack and Cybil were training alongside other Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois – only instead of learning to scent and find contraband or drugs, they were learning to hunt down American Foul Brood, a contagious and fatal disease that infects honeybee colonies. Honey bees are critical to the pollination of a myriad of agricultural crops – as many as 40 percent of all crops grown in Maryland. Cybil and Mack officially graduated from the program and became a certified detection dog team on Nov. 3, 2015.
“The commanders at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services were extremely knowledgeable and accommodating, and they looked out for me the entire time,” said Cybil. “Mack wasn’t the typical kind of dog they deal with but they evaluated us together and put us on a path where we were able to accomplish our goal.”
The Correctional Services handles more than 60 K-9 dogs trained to sniff out prison contraband such as drugs and cell phones. The department was more than glad to help teach Mack how to lock on an odor and develop a search pattern.
“It’s basically the same training that we do for our contraband detection work,” said Major Greg Shumake, the department’s K-9 Unit Commander. “Mack’s at the point now where he is ready to hit the field.”
Now that he’s on the job, Mack and Cybil will work to reduce the incidence of American Foul Brood in Maryland bee colonies during the fall and winter when the bees are dormant. A trained dog can inspect 100 honeybee colonies in 45 minutes. An average human inspector can inspect 45 colonies in one day. Early detection of the disease will save Maryland beekeepers substantial monetary loss from eradication of diseased bees and destruction of infected equipment.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture has had a bee dog on staff since 1982. Klinker, the last bee dog, retired earlier this year. As far as the department can tell, it is the only one in the country with a bee-disease-sniffing dog on staff.