Meet Riley, the puppy training to sniff out bugs in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts
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The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has made some pretty cool acquisitions recently. In the last year alone, the museum got an important collection of 113 Dutch paintings. It also expanded its collection of 20th-century painters.
But the museum’s latest addition is Riley. Riley is a Weimaraner puppy. He will help the museum search for insects and pests that might harm artworks. This is the story that’s currently fetching the most attention. This is according to Steve Annear at The Boston Globe.
Bugs in a museum are no small problem. Moths can munch on delicate textiles. Those textiles include wool, silk and cotton. Beetles can burrow into wooden objects. That’s not to mention the horrors that silverfish can inflict on books. Here's how to get an idea of how much damage bugs can inflict on museums. Just consider the outbreak of “clothes moths” that infested just about every museum in Great Britain.
The Museum of Fine Arts wanted to stop such infestations before they start. Enter the puppy.
“We have lots of things that bring, by their very nature, bugs or pests with them.” That's according to Katie Getchell. She is chief brand officer and deputy director of the Museum of Fine Arts.
She explained in an interview with Annear. "If [Riley] can be trained to sit down in front of an object that he smells a bug in, that would be remarkable in terms of preserving objects. If we couldn't smell it or see it, then we could take that object, inspect it, and figure out what’s going on."
Nicki Luongo is the museum’s director of protective services. She is also Riley’s owner. She will train the pup for the job over the next year. That's according to Darren Reynolds at ABC News. Currently, Riley doesn’t know a clothes moth from a piece of kibble.
Weimaraners are a particularly good breed for such tasks. They have stamina and can work for long hours without getting bored. That’s one reason they are often used as bomb or drug-sniffing dogs. It doesn’t hurt either that Riley does not have a long tail. This makes him an especially good dog for working in a museum full of fragile objects.
Riley isn’t the museum’s only defense against insects, of course. Getchell tells Annear of the Globe that the museum already has strict protocols designed to exclude creepy crawlies from the collection. Riley, who will work mostly behind the scenes, is an experiment. If he’s on point when it comes to bug detection, other museums might get their own pups.
This isn’t the only program using dogs to safeguard cultural artifacts to make news lately. Katie Bontje at the Daily Pennsylvanian reports that the Penn Museum and the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is working with the nonprofit heritage group Red Arch. They are training dogs to sniff out stolen pieces of cultural heritage. The program is called K-9 Artifact Finders. It is using training material from the Penn Museum to help the dogs find contraband. If that goes well, eventually, the dogs could be sent into the field. They would go with customs agents to track down stolen artifacts.
There’s been an uptick in antiquities smuggling in recent years. It has been fueled by ISIS and anonymous internet sales. It’s possible that antiquities dogs could help crack down on the trade. At the very least, they seem like they might be able to sniff out any antiquities based on cats.