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16 dogs attacked by Africanized honey bees; three critical

June 8, 2012 |  3:02 pm

Approximate location of incident shown in red.

Three dogs were in critical condition this week after a swarm of bees attacked a pet boarding center in Ventura County.

Sixteen dogs were playing outside after breakfast Wednesday when workers spotted what looked like a giant plume of smoke in the distance. As it approached, they realized it was a swarm of bees, which officials now believe to be of the Africanized variety.

The swarm swooped down on the exercise yard and began stinging dogs and employees, said Melissa Houlihan, owner of the Balcom Canyon Pet Lodge in Somis.

“They scrambled to bring the dogs inside, but the bees came down so quickly,” she said. “It was horrific.”

A dozen dogs were stung. Three -- two whippets and a Cairn terrier -- are hospitalized in critical condition. The whippets were stung more than 250 times and appeared unrecognizable, Houlihan said.

Several employees were also stung, but none were hospitalized.

The dog facility is in a rural area surrounded by orchards, but nothing like this had ever happened before, Houlihan said.

Ventura County became colonized by Africanized bees in 2000. There are reports of swarms occasionally, but attacks are extremely rare.

“This is the first one I can remember in a long time,” said Andy Calderwood, supervising agricultural inspector for the county.

Calderwood said the incident was strange because of how aggressively the bees responded. Usually, Africanized bees will buzz around the countryside without disturbing anyone.

“This was the behavior of a disturbed colony,” he said. “It was so precipitous, there must have been a nest nearby that was disturbed in some way, maybe run over by a vehicle or by equipment. It had to be a pretty big insult.”

A bee from the swarm was taken in for inspection and it was smaller, similar to the Africanized variety, Calderwood said.

County officials sent inspectors to the area to try to find the disturbed colony, but so far they have been unsuccessful. They will also check to see if nearby honeybee hive keepers violated county regulations, which require bees to be set back from roads, occupied homes and nearby properties.

Africanized bees can be more aggressive, they chase targets for longer distances and larger amounts of the hive tend to attack, Calderwood said. He advises people to move away from bees quickly in the case of an attack.

“With every step you take, the less bees will be on you,” he said.

Back at the Balcom Canyon Pet Lodge, Houlihan said she was proud of her workers for responding so quickly.

“They risked their lives to grab every dog,” she said. “All the owners are very grateful.”


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-- Esmeralda Bermudez

Image: Approximate location of incident shown in red. Credit: Google Maps