Trained dogs find Ash Borer beetle

Emerald ash borers are metallic-green beetles about a half-inch long and are native to eastern Asia. They were first discovered in the United States in Michiganin 2002 and are now confirmed in at least 13 other states, including Wisconsin. Emerald ash borers first showed up in St. Paul in 2009, then in other parts of Ramsey County and Hennepin, Winona and Houston counties.

Since the beetles’ discovery in the state, officials have tried a variety of methods to detect them and stop their spread. “We weren’t even sure if dogs could pick up on the scent of the ash borer or the ash wood, but they did,” she said. “We’re excited it worked.”

The beetle larvae kill trees by tunneling under the bark, disrupting the trees’ food supply. They are known to travel to new areas via firewood, nursery stock and other woody materials.

A team of dogs have been training in Minnesotato to detect this invasive beetle. The dogs were trained much like law enforcement drug-sniffing dogs, but with the focus on finding emerald ash borers and their larvae, which threaten the nearly 1 billion ash trees in Minnesota. The dog training program was a pilot program and has proven effective, Erickson said. Four dogs were trained — two Labradors, a German shepherd and a Belgian Malinois.

“With emerald ash borer, the only way you can find it is by visually finding the signs of it on the tree or in the wood,” Erickson said. “Those signs sometimes don’t appear right away, so sometimes you don’t realize there’s a problem until it’s too late. And with the dogs, because they can smell it, they can find an infestation right away. That’s the kind of efficiency that makes it well worth bringing the dogs in.”

Can a Canary be considered a sentinel for humans?

Well into the 20th century coal miners used canaries to monitor levels of Carbon monoxide gas in the mine. Their measurement was very simple … when the canary fell off it’s perch, the miners had a very short time to evacuate the mine. When the miners suspected their might be major methane gas issues, they posted a guard to literally watch the canary. The good news was it worked for the miners … not so much for the canaries!

Researching the subject of animals as sentinels gives one a new perspective on the importance of our animal kingdom.

Animal sentinels, or sentinel species, are animals used to detect risks to humans by providing advanced warning of a danger. The terms primarily apply in the context of ecological hazards rather than those from other sources. Some animals can act as sentinels because they may be more susceptible, or have greater exposure to a particular hazard than humans in the same environment. People have long observed animals for signs of impending hazards or evidence of environmental threats. Plants, and other living organisms have also been used for these purposes.

Some historical examples:

There are countless examples of environmental effects on animals that later manifested in humans. The classic example of animal sentinels is the “canary in the coal mine“.

In Minamata Bay, Japancats developed “dancing cat fever” before humans were affected, as a result of eating mercury contaminated fish. Dogs were recognized as early as 1939 to be more susceptible to tonsil cancer if they were kept in crowded urban environments. Similar studies did the same for animals exposed to tobacco smoke.

Some characteristics of the animals

Animal sentinels must have measurable responses to the hazard in question, whether that is due to the animal’s death, disappearance, or some other aspect.

For example, honey bees are susceptible to air pollution. Similarly both bats and swallows have been used to monitor pesticide contamination due to their diet of insects that may have been affected by the chemicals. By the same token, aquatic animals, or their direct predators, are used as sentinel species to monitor water pollution.

Some species may show effects of a contaminant before humans due to their size, their reproductive rate, or their increased exposure to the contaminant.

Today it is a common belief that cancers in dogs and cats have been linked to household exposures to pesticidescigarette smoke, toxic cleaning agents and other carcinogens. Some speculate that animals could provide early warning of a terrorist attack using biological or chemical agents.

From a futuristic perspective there has been a call for linkage of human and veterinary medicine in a “One Health” approach that recognizes disease occurring in the animal kingdom may indicate human health risk. This approach would involve greater information sharing between human health, veterinary clinicians and public health professionals.

So, if you have made it to the end of this article … You now know why I like talking about Animals being guardians for our health. 

Even our guardians need to rest …


An older, tired-looking dog wandered into my yard. I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home and was well taken care of. He calmly came over to me, I gave him a few pats on his head; he then followed me into my house, slowly walked down the hall, curled up in the corner and fell asleep.

An hour later, he went to the door, and I let him out …

The next day he was back, greeted me in the yard, walked inside and resumed his spot in the hall again and slept for about an hour. This continued off and on for several weeks.

Curious I pinned a note to his collar: “I would like to find out who the owner of this wonderful sweet dog is and ask if you are aware that almost every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap.”

The next day he arrived for his nap, with a different note pinned to his collar: “He lives in a home with 6 children, 2 under the age of 3. He’s trying to catch up on his sleep … Can I come with him tomorrow?

This story 1st appeared in an email circulated wide and far .. I think it is so appropriate to be posted again as school is now in session … just a gentle reminder that it is most likely our pets get tired too!

Our pets are guardians for our health. Really?

We have years of scientific literature showing that pets are guardians for human problems. The question then is, are we paying attention to our pets? Let’s look behind the scenes for just a minute.

The Washington, DC based Environmental Working Group (EWG) has actually tested dogs and cats for chemical exposure and found many worrisome contaminants at levels much higher than in humans. EWG’s analysis found levels of flame retardants (used in furniture, fabrics and electronics) and mercury (likely from fish in pet foods) in cats twenty-three times and five times higher, respectively, than in humans. Levels of perfluorinated chemicals (from stain- and grease-proof coatings) in dogs were found to be 2.4 times higher than in people.  Perfluorinated chemicals have been linked to causing several different types of cancers in animals. Overall, 35 worrisome chemicals in dogs and 46 in cats were found.

How do you feel about what you have just read?  Overloaded?  Helpless to protect your pet?  Don’t be.

The really good news is that we have alternatives available to us today. We have green cleaning products to clean our homes and our pets. There are a myriad of dog and cat foods readily available, with most pet stores carrying pet healthy brands that are in the mainstream of pricing.  The choices of fabrics (like micro suede or leather) and safe flooring options (without the use of perfluorinated chemicals) is abundant. Many of these changes can be done immediately, while others might not happen until the couch or the flooring need replacing.

Armed with knowledge we can make healthy choices not just for ourselves, but our pets as well.