When we finally get around the corner from COVID-19, I’m sure you’ll be dismayed to learn that we have another problem headed for the US. African swine fever has devastated sub-Saharan Africa, China, Mongolia and Vietnam. has entered the European Union and could be directed towards the USA
Luckily, America may be able to stop it from spreading to the US thanks to a bipartisan pair of US Senators and the dogs who support them.
On March 1st I was fortunate to be invited by Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock to a press conference in Newnan, Georgia. There I met an unlikely ally in the fight against African swine fever: the “Beagle Brigade”.
Fortunately, African swine fever is not fatal to humans. But it is very deadly to pigs, killing many and forcing farmers to slaughter their herds to protect the uninfected. Since my father grew up on a pig farm, I’ve heard how difficult it is for such farmers to face such a deadly enemy.
I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the Beagle. My wife and I had one when we lived in a trailer park in Tallahassee, and “Emily” was about the most undisciplined creature I’ve ever met. But the people at the USDA’s National Detector Dog Training Center showed me that these people at the Department of Agriculture know how to train a beagle to effectively find a whole range of invasive pests.
USDA Undersecretary of State Jennifer Moffitt told me all about other problems these beagles can sniff out with other pooches—including Jack Russell terriers and yellow labs. There’s the spotted lanternfly, which came to Pennsylvania from China and stalks the east and west coasts, attacking everything from forests to orchards. Then there’s the Brown Tree Snake trying to get in through cargo. Its bite is dangerous to children, and it has wiped out bird populations and other species where it has preyed on animals of all kinds.
“These dogs are well-trained, food-motivated, and know their noses,” Moffitt added.
“If they’re so great, why are we only doing this now?” I asked. Then I learned that these beagles and other dogs were funded largely through USDA user fees, not Congress. The Beagle Brigade Act will provide legal means to expand the program and deploy it more widely, which is imperative in today’s freight-based global economy. Also, these cute canines are less threatening than larger types of dogs typically used for law enforcement duties.
I also learned from the USDA trainers that these dogs serve for nearly a decade and are often adopted by their handlers upon retirement before a formal adoption process takes place.
Democratic Senator Warnock isn’t the only one pushing for it. He has a strong co-sponsor in Republican Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa. When I asked the Georgia Senator at the press conference about strategies for breaking Build Back Better into smaller, more manageable popular bills, he replied, “I’m more concerned with positive outcomes than process.” He documented the positive “shot in the head.” Poor” of America’s bailout plan, expanding child tax outcomes, reducing child poverty, and finding ways to bring health care to residents of states that have refused to expand Medicaid.
But it is clear that this bipartisan Beagle Brigade Act will be a key piece of legislation that will help keep our agriculture and environment from going to the dogs.
John A. Tures is Professor of Political Science LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected]. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.