City Calls In The Dogs

WSJ.com
Thursday, November 17, 2011

The city has unleashed its newest tools in the battle against bedbugs: Mickey and Nemo, beagles trained to sniff out the scourge.

Mickey, foreground, and Nemo have already been put to work inspecting apartments for signs of bedbugs.

The dogs and their handlers will be deployed to apartments for inspections when requests are made through the city's nonemergency 311 line. The Department of Housing Preservation & Development could send out each dog and handler to perform about a dozen inspections a day, though city officials cautioned that the two teams won't be able to meet citywide demand.

On Monday, their first day on the job, the dog and handler teams made nine visits that resulted in three landlords being hit with violation notices.

"Within minutes of bringing the dog into the apartment, the dog sat down and signaled that there were bedbugs," said Vito Mustaciuolo, deputy commissioner of Housing Preservation & Development. "That's incredible."

The cost of purchasing the dogs, training, kennel charges and veterinary care is $69,000 for the first year, most of which was covered by the City Council.

Nemo and Mickey will spend their nights in an Upper East Side kennel, where they will receive frequent grooming. Visits to the veterinarian are covered under a pet insurance plan and the two even have their own uniforms and Housing Preservation & Development badges.

The bedbug-detecting beagles are part of a coordinated, multi-agency effort that began in the summer of 2010 in response to an epidemic of bedbug infestations-from bedrooms to offices to movie theaters.

The city convened a special advisory group, created a website specific to bedbug prevention and education, provided training to Housing Preservation & Development officers and tightened regulations for landlords.

"We've all seen the commercials of the beagles you could hire to come to your house to get bedbugs out of your home," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "By bringing Mickey and Nemo on board, we're sending a message that all New Yorkers, regardless of their income, will get the best bedbug attention money can buy."

New York follows city agencies in Seattle and Milwaukee in purchasing bedbug-detecting dogs.

Because of wide-spread concern surrounding the proliferation of bedbug-sniffing dogs and their effectiveness, the National Pest Management Association and several certification agencies have stepped up efforts to develop industry protocols on dog and handler training.

"Unfortunately, there is very little research that's been done on bedbugs and even less on bedbug scent detection canine teams, though we do know that these teams, when properly trained and certified, can be very effective," said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association.