TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Protecting Florida's $120 billion agriculture industry requires a multifaceted approach, including the assistance of several four-legged, furry helpers.
During the dog days of summer, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is showcasing its lesser-known staff members -- rescue dogs trained to detect invasive pests and disease.
"Dogs' unparalleled sense of smell makes them indispensable to multiple industries, including law enforcement and health care," Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said. "Here at the department, our working dogs are an integral part of our early detection efforts to identify invasive pests and disease that threaten Florida's agriculture industry."
Florida's warm climate makes it a hotbed for invasive pests and disease. Among the many tools the department employs to detect, monitor and eradicate pests and disease are five working dogs.
Here is more information on the dogs that defend Florida's agriculture industry:
- Audi (age: 5): Audi is a chocolate Labrador Retriever rescue dog who patrols parcel facilities in Orlando, Tampa and Miami. One career highlight is when Audi detected olive branches from California with fruits that contained larvae of the Olive fruit fly, one of the most damaging pests of olives in southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and California. Olive trees are a relatively new addition to Florida's agriculture portfolio.
- Bear (age: 4): Bear (pictured with handler Larry Bynum) is a Labrador Retriever-mix rescue dog who works in Miami. Bear's sole mission is to detect giant African land snails in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which are considered to be one of the most damaging snails in the world. They consume at least 500 types of plants and pose a threat to health as they carry rat lungworm, which can cause meningitis in humans and animals.
- Kojak (age: 6): Kojak (pictured below) is a Labrador Retriever-mix rescue dog who works in Ft. Myers, Tampa and Orlando. Kojak patrols parcel facilities to detect invasive pests and disease, as well as unauthorized plant material that may have been shipped into Florida. One career highlight is when Kojak detected a live whitefly pupa and several crushed adult whiteflies.
- Sierra (age: 3): Sierra is a chocolate Labrador Retriever rescue dog. She joins Bear in the mission to eradicate giant African land snails located in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
- Verde (age: 7): Verde is a Labrador Retriever who was found abandoned and in ill health. Since her rescue and recovery, she has been trained to patrol parcel facilities to detect invasive pests and disease. She works in Miami, Hollywood, Homestead and Miramar at postal facilities. One career highlight is when Verde detected invasive water lettuce, which is prohibited to import to Florida, contained within an unmarked box at a postal facility.
The agriculture industry supports more than 2 million jobs and produces approximately 300 commodities.
There are 47,740 farm operations in the state, covering more than 9.5 million acres of land.
Invasive species cost Florida $100 million per year.
For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.