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This Dog’s Nose is the Bee’s Knees

Mack the Lab is Maryland’s chief apiary sniffer

Cybil Preston and her bee dog Mack the Lab are official heroes in the state of Maryland.
    Like all heroes and superheroes, Mack rose from a troubled past. He was a puppy in a dissolving family where three small children took up all the time the mother had to give. Preston came to the rescue, sensing Mack had the brains to pick up new skills. He did.
    Preston, Maryland’s chief apiary inspector, needed a new sharp-nosed dog to continue the nation’s longest — and only — canine apiary inspection program. The most famous of the five dogs who held the Maryland job was Klinker, who was featured in a National Geographic segment before retiring in 2014.
    Bee dogs, as the apiary inspectors are known, can sniff out a killing disease. The American foulbrood bacterium kills both pupae and pre-pupae in bee colonies. It spreads in a vegetative form as well as through spores, which means if a hive is infected, any tools used even, potentially, the hive itself may have to be destroyed.
    American foulbrood gets its name from the country in which it was discovered and its foul smell, “like chicken manure,” Preston says. The human nose can detect the scent only if the hive is opened, Preston says, “while Mack need only walk past.”
    He stops and sits to signal an infested hive.
    Mack works only in the cold, below 52 degrees, when bees are dormant, so he isn’t stung. One sting on the nose taught handler and dog that lesson. Mack works on the Preston family farm in his free time, at his master’s side, sidetracked only by a game of Frisbee.
    Quick, cost effective and extremely accurate, bee-sniffing dogs are a key part of Maryland apiculture and agriculture, keeping bees at work pollinating crops.

Mack’s sensitive nose helps Maryland’s chief apiary inspector Cybil Preston find bee hives infested with American foulbrood.