Paul Malchow

In spite of the news coming out of Washington, D.C., commodity markets and local grain elevators, agriculture is not going to the dogs. Or is it?

I recently received this news item from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Dogs detect prohibited agricultural products that can carry foreign pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture and forests.”

The report began by telling of Hardy, a USDA-trained detector dog and member of the “Beagle Brigade,” who sniffed out a roasted pig head in luggage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. The USDA says this is just one of several biosecurity efforts that are being undertaken to keep African swine fever from entering the country.

“USDA continues to train dogs at its National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia,” the report stated. “The center is designed and equipped to train detector dog teams (canines and handlers), like Hardy’s, to safeguard American agriculture. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Plant Protection and Quarantine program and the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) use detector dog teams, known as the Beagle Brigade, to search for prohibited agricultural products at major U.S. ports of entry (airports and land border crossings), mail and cargo facilities. The teams detect prohibited agricultural products that can carry foreign pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture and forests.”

I am a dog owner and have been for many years. Our first dog was found sleeping on our stoop on a cold December morning. He was shivering and skinny and my wife immediately took pity on him. She gave him food and water, but we left him outside — partly because we didn’t know his health, partly because we didn’t know who he belonged to and thought he might move on. When we returned home from a day at work, he was still there. Law enforcement had no reports of a missing dog. A check with area veterinarians also came up empty. Just like that, we were dog owners.

Aside from our Scottish terrier, all of our dogs have had unknown origins. One we found roaming the countryside. The remnant of his leash had been chewed through and dangled from his collar. Another we obtained from a humane society. Another was found running wild by a third party who thought we might be interested in taking him in. While we weren’t really looking for another dog, this one was merely weeks old and cute as a … puppy. How do you say “no” to that?

Growing up on a farm, we seemed to always have a mutt on the place. No Chihuahuas or Shih Tzus, they were all strictly barn dogs. None of them would ever set foot inside the house. (Well, that’s not entirely true. One time our dog was sprayed by a skunk. When we opened the front door of the house to investigate all of the yelping, the dog shot into the house like he was on fire — skunk smell and all. This did not endear him to my mother one bit.) Some of these dogs had natural herding instincts and were great with the cattle. Some not so much.

If you ever have the opportunity to watch dogs herd sheep, it is an impressive sight to behold. Tireless and alert, these four-legged shepherds not only control the entire herd, but seem to have a ball doing it.

So dogs have been ag partners in some form or another since there were farms to live on. They are generally good at varmint control, sounding the alarm when someone drives onto the place, and keeping a watchful eye on young boys who may be heading for mischief.

Now man’s best friend is working the front lines of preventing African swine fever from crossing our borders. Aside from healthy appetites and the occasional vet bill, dogs work pretty cheap. If they can keep our swine, poultry and livestock safe from catastrophe, they are worth their weight in gold.

If they can greet you at the end of a hard day with a big smile and wagging tail, they are also worth their weight in gold … and then some.

Paul Malchow is the managing editor of The Land. He may be reached at editor@TheLandOnline.com.