AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the outskirts of Travis County, home to about 1,000 farms full of livestock, two new members of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office are restoring law and order to the cattle that get loose from their pins.
Sam and Zeke, two border collie mixes, joined the department’s Estray Unit last year to help deputies corral loose cattle. The dogs have decreased the amount of time it takes to gather loose livestock and have increased the safety for deputies as well.
“We love them. They’ve been worth their weight in gold,” Sgt. Jeff Ford, the head of county’s Estray Unit, explained.
New dogs become time-savers
Sam and Zeke will respond to a loose animal about 10 times a month. The dogs usually work alone with their handler, but they are still proving to be efficient in their job.
Sgt. Ford said in the past, it could take a deputy between 90 minutes and two hours to corral a loose bull back into a farm. Sam and Zeke can do it in 35 minutes with no problem.
The dogs are bred for this kind of work and are small enough to fit in tight spaces that their human counterparts cannot reach.
The dogs train every week with three bulls that are owned by the department. The dogs wear tracking collars around their necks so their handlers know where they are at all times. The handlers will give dogs commands like “walk up” and “down” to put them in the best position to move the cattle. Sgt. Ford said the dogs bring a sense of tension that cattle do not like and forces them to move away from the area.
Once a job is done, the handlers make sure to shower the dogs with positive reinforcement to let them know they have done a good job.
The dogs are fearless
The department is extremely happy with the efficiency at which Zeke and Sam work, but they are most happy about the safety they bring.
Before the dogs joined the sheriff’s office, deputies would have to go face-to-face with loose livestock. The potential for danger was always there for deputies, but the dogs are now a buffer.
“It’s been the greatest thing that these dogs have brought to us,” Sgt. Ford explained.
In one instance, a loose bull charged a deputy and Zeke intervened, stopping the bull from charging and saving the deputy from harm.
The success of the program is gaining national attention. Sgt. Ford said departments from all over Texas, South Carolina, California, and New York have contacted the department to learn more about the program.