FRESNO, Calif. -- You've heard of police dogs, but what about agriculture dogs?
"A lot of people aren't aware that there are dogs trained specifically to find agricultural material and help protect agriculture in general," said Samantha Tomlinson, K-9 handler for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture.
Tomlinson was flanked by her K-9 partner, Soya. "We are one of several teams throughout the state that goes through terminal facilities," Tomlinson said. These facilities are typically where packages are sent in and out of California.
"We get up really early in the morning when they're sorting everything, and we go through these terminal facilities, and Soya here smells packages daily, looking for the plant material, and when she finds something she'll alert on it by scratching."
Soya showed off a simulation of an inspection. She sniffed out multiple stacks of boxes and found one that had a mango in it. She scratched the box three times, indicating to Tomlinson that there's an agriculture product inside, and during a real inspection, it would have been inspected.
"We're looking to avoid things in the past that have come into California, for example, the European Grapevine Moth and the Asian Citrus Psyllid," Tomlinson said. Insects and diseases can be brought into the state when fruits or vegetables are mailed here.
"Those have all come in on people bringing stuff in and moving stuff around illegally, and they cause the industry millions of dollars to either eradicate or control."
Soya was a former rescue dog in Georgia who was given a second chance as an ag k-9. She'll retire at age nine (she's seven now) and will live with Tomlinson after retirement.
"I mean it's a friendship, it's a partnership and friendship. That's probably the best thing... she knows if I'm not having the best day she'll come and sit with me," Tomlinson said.
"We just get each other."
Soya is one of two dogs employed by the Fresno County Department of Agriculture, and she frequents local classrooms as part of education and outreach.
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