Nothing to be sniffed at

Sometimes cute things come in small packages, but in the case of our Master Gardener Advanced Training last week, the biggest cutie was working with the packages! Hawkeye is a rescue dog that has been trained to sniff out vegetable matter and errant insects in parcels arriving into California. The purpose of such activity is not to induce the, “Awe, look at that doggie,” factor at the parcel depot but to halt the spread of diseases that can cost millions of dollars in damage to agriculture and the environment.

The demonstration involved presenting Hawkeye with an array of parcels, with an orange in one of them. Here’s what happened…

Hawkeye will find anything in a FedEx parcel, or other post, that simply shouldn’t be there. For example, pet shops that attempt to send animals without following the proper procedures. Smuggling animals across borders is wrong in lots of ways, some of which include cruelty to the animals being transported, never mind risking the health of animals and humans along the route and at the destination.

But its not just these underworld characters who put agriculture and delicate ecosystems at risk. We, the general public, do so all the time through ignorance or selfishness.

As gardeners, we love to exchange plants,but how far away are we making these exchanges? Plant cuttings and soil are ideal for viruses, pathogens, fungi and nematode to stowaway in until they reach California

How often have we been tempted to post food stuff across boarders? Missing the Irish pork products here as I do, it is so tempting ask my Mum to post me that delicious back bacon that I adore so much. Hawkeye would just love to find that in a FedEx parcel. People send the weirdest things to their loved ones – oranges from Florida are apparently a big no no. Sure we get lovely oranges here, why send them in? But folk do. A friend of mine took a live lobster home as carry on luggage on the plane from Boston to Ireland – not sure I remember how that story ended…

California is not the only place at risk. In New Zealand every planeload of passengers is met with a quivering wet nose – no, not a Kiwi with a head cold! The bearer of the quivering wet nose when I arrived there several years ago was a perky beagle whose job it was to search the luggage for botanical castaways and the bugs they may enfold. When these dogs are working it is not a good idea to try to pet them – the handlers really don’t like it, and lets face it, you really don’t want a pooch getting over interested in you at an airport no matter how innocent you are!

Such is global travel these days that we barely think about what may scrounge a lift with us. That innocent apple in our back pack may be carrying the next virus that will wipe out non resistant apple varieties at our destination. Remember what the common cold did when it hitched a ride to the New World?

Having been brought up on an island free from the ravages of rabies, this is a topic close to my heart. I’m happy to see dogs like Hawkeye strut their stuff – and strut they do. These guys are chosen because they are very food driven. Having owned a food driven Jack Russell alongside a non-food driven Westie, it is easy to see the difference. The Jack Russell just never gave up, making the Westie look like quite the dumb blonde!

The bottom line is – think about what you are sending. If is living or once was, find out should it be going where it is going. If Hawkeye and his buddies find an item that may pose a risk, the sender is contacted who may, at best, lose the item.

I wonder if Hawkeye is trained to find chocolate bars – that’s one thing that does get sent to me from Ireland more often than I need and not as often as I might like!

If you have any questions about what can or cannot be brought into California, or if  you live in Santa Clara County and would like Hawkeye to demonstrate his waggy tailed talents for your organization please email [email protected] for more information.

Byddi Lee

1 reply to Nothing to be sniffed at

  1. I wasn't able to attend the training. Thank YOU for posting this.

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