Newcastle Dog Trainer Has Breakthrough with Bovine TB Detection Dogs
Bill Thomson from Newcastle is a well-respected specialist dog handler and has succeeded in training dogs to detect the presence of TB infected badgers around farm properties.
This ground-breaking work has been achieved after years of painstaking efforts with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), QUB and other agencies and now Bill is just waiting on one final research trial by a Californian university to finalise the last stage in providing a low cost, environmental-friendly solution to a major problem in the farming sector in Northern Ireland. In England, DEFRA said that £1billion could be spent in the next 10 years fighting TB in livestock and indicated that the cost to the farmer is an average of £12,000 and £22,000 to the tax payer.
The first badger cull in the recent round was approved on 17 September and will take place in Gloucestershire, a TB hotspot. Bill Thomson said: “Each year £20 million is paid out by DARD to farmers in Northern Ireland in compensation when their herds are infected by this terrible disease. Even movement restrictions are a heavy penalty on the farmer. I have pioneered a very useful tool which can be used alongside other strategies to try and eliminate and lessen TB. I am a client of Invest NI and have found them very helpful in assisting me to develop this TB detection project to its present level.
“Badgers have been blamed as the main culprits for spreading the TB virus around farms and my method of detection has even been given the green light by animal welfare groups. There may be other animals and factors too involved in the spread of TB. I know there are strong opinions on both sides for and against badger culling. My detection system can go a long way to preventing TB contamination if used effectively.
“This work in screening farms for TB is perfectly safe for both dogs and handlers, and I work to DARD guidelines and parameters.
“Our company, Falco K9 Academy (UK) was set up after I had completed extensive five-year training with the very prestigious Falco organization in America. I still work closely with them and have set up the UK-based part of the company.
“I am now waiting on the final research paper from a Californian university who are conducting trials for me but so far the results have been really encouraging indeed. I have also been involved in conducting trails under license with QUB in the past. The badger is a protected species and as such a license is required to work with live animals and obtain samples.”
Bill has also had a number of other notable successes in dog training as he has successfully trained a number of medical assistance dogs, and has dogs trained in detecting eColi and salmonella which could be a major plus and cost saving for the food industry.
“I am looking forward to the next stage of developing this business and already bodies such as the Ulster Farmers Union who I have met with have shown strong interest.
“This development could potentially have a huge impact on preventing herds from becoming infected by TB. It is a proactive, preventative system. It aims to detect infected badger presence so that farmers and vets can take the necessary measures accordingly to protect the herds.
“The actual process of detection still requires to be kept under wraps, but I am the first person in the UK to have developed this approach to this stage, and now it needs to get to the implementation stage. Already farmers, vets and others have seen this as a very effective way to deal with this terrible and costly disease.”
Bill Thomson also added that his system could be used in conjuction with other strategies such as pharmaceutical-based approaches, culls, improving housing and herd management.
He said: “It is just not good enough now to try and think out of the box anymore on the TB badger issue. We have to act out of the box.
“My system is proven and could be ready to roll out fairly quickly and would provide a humane way of dealing with this problem acceptable to all. We now have an opportunity in Northern Ireland to become leaders in this exciting new development.
“Although there is no cull planned for Northern Ireland, many people will be watching how the English cull is developing very closely. It is thought to cost £200 per square kilometre over the next four years and has caused a huge media and political furore which is another cost that government must absorb.
”I am really excited at getting to this stage after years of hard work and investment. I am convinced I can make a huge contribution to easing the TB problem for farmers and hope to continue my discussions with DARD.”