Dogs Reduce E. Coli on Beaches

Study looks at the role of Border Collies in disease prevention.
By JoAnna Lou, May 2014
Border Collie Photo by Tambako The Jaguar

Every year high E. coli levels shut down hundreds of beaches around the world. The bacteria is the leading cause of shore closures. While the prevalence of the microorganism is largely due to rainwater runoff and sewage, seagull droppings have been found to be responsible not only for high E. coli levels, but for spreading multi-drug resistant bacteria in multiple countries including Sweden, France, Portugal, Siberia, Greenland, and the United States. Researchers have found that resistance factors identified in seagull feces match those that cause highly resistant infections in humans.

Scientists have been looking for a way to keep curb seaside E. coli levels and Border Collies may just be the answer. A study led by Dr. Elizabeth Alm from Central Michigan University assigned the herding dogs, normally charged with keeping sheep in line, to chasing seagulls on the shores of Lake Michigan. Ring-Billed gull numbers have increased by 10 percent each year since the 1970's, creating all kinds of microorganism related problems.

Throughout the summers of 2012 and 2013, the dogs were trained to keep the gulls from landing on the beach while researchers tested water and sand samples for E. coli. The team found that bacterial counts were significantly lower on the beaches where the dogs were working. They also learned that timing is crucial. Dr. Alm found that if the dogs didn't curb the seagulls in the beginning of the season, E. coli would establish and could not be reduced.

It sounds like there's a lot more research to be done, but the Border Collies seem to be a humane solution for keeping beaches open and people healthy.