Bed Bug-Detection Dog Sniffs Out Critters at Central Library
Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not since her show dog days has Ms. Liberty Belle had so much attention.

The 2 1/2-year-old beagle, Oklahoma's only certified bedbug-detection dog, was called to Tulsa from Norman on Wednesday to sniff out bedbugs at the 135,000-square-foot Central Library, at Fourth Street and Denver Avenue.

The buff-and-white canine was greeted by news cameras, microphones and reporters asking her owner, Glen Collymore, all about how she sniffs out the elusive pests.

But then it was time for Liberty to go to work.

"She's here to help the people of Tulsa," said Gary Shaffer, chief executive officer of the Tulsa City-County Library system.

By 7:45 p.m., Liberty - as her owners call her - had rooted through all four of the library's floors, and library spokesman John Fancher said the bugs had not been found outside the area where they were first discovered.

Just before noon Tuesday, a customer showed a library staffer that he had been bitten by bedbugs while sitting in a chair in the periodicals section on the third floor.

Later in the day, officials announced that bedbugs had been found in several chairs in a 1,000-square-foot area. All the chairs were removed and replaced with vinyl and metal chairs, Fancher said.

Officials immediately closed the facility and called in an extermination service to assess the situation, Shaffer said.

Fancher said Wednesday that the downtown library would remain closed through Thursday, when a pest control company will treat the building. The library will reopen Friday.

While the possibility exists that the critters could ride home with someone in a book, it is unlikely, said Mario Echeverria with Rove Pest Control in Tulsa.

"Bedbugs are known to be really good hitchhikers," he said. But they're typically found in cracks and crevices in furniture and clothing.

It isn't unheard of for a library to close due to the discovery of bedbugs. Last September, the Norman Public Library closed for extermination after bedbugs were found there. Libraries in Michigan, Colorado, Kentucky and Ontario, Canada, were shuttered temporarily last year due to the pesky critters.

Several of those libraries also used bedbug-detection dogs to ferret out the insects.

Collymore, who owns K9 Special Force Bedbug Detection Specialists in Norman, said dogs - particularly beagles - are best equipped to detect bedbugs. A 2008 University of Florida study showed that trained dogs could detect bedbugs and viable bedbug eggs with 95 percent accuracy.

"Beagles have one of the best senses of smell of any dog," Collymore said.

Exterminators have more difficulty detecting bedbugs because the pests are good at hiding and are difficult to see with the naked eye, and exterminators usually have to rifle through belongings and take beds apart to discover them, he said.

Collymore said Liberty is bathed frequently, particularly after a job, in case any bedbugs have hitched a ride on her.

"She's the cleanest dog in Oklahoma," he said.

Liberty is busiest in the summer and is often called to apartment buildings, hospitals, hotels and other types of facilities.

On days they don't work, Liberty is in training to keep her bedbug senses sharp. Using a verbal and food-reward system, Collymore hides vials of one to five bedbugs, and Liberty finds them easily.

The dog, along with Collymore and his wife, Christen Collymore, was trained in Florida at J&K Canine Academy. Liberty is certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.

Collymore said he charges an average of $250 per hour for Liberty's services. For an average apartment, it generally takes Liberty around 10 minutes to complete the detection service.

To signal the start of a job, he said he pulls out a vial of bedbugs and lets her take a whiff.

"She knows when we're working," Collymore said.

Liberty has been detecting bedbugs for 1 1/2 years. Before that, she was a show dog in Phoenix. As beautiful as she is, her handlers said she "had a little too much energy" for that profession.

"She's putting on a good show right now," he said as the dog gazed quietly at the small crowd of journalists. "She can be a handful, actually."