Duluth-based dog sniffs out bedbugs for pest control firm

Duluth News Tribune
Monday, May 30, 2011

A quick round of sniffing, and she had it.

Raising her paw, she tagged the spoke of the wheel that contained a hidden vial of bedbugs and looked up at her handler, anticipating her food reward.

It took only a couple of seconds.

Meet Shelby, a certified bedbug scent detection dog who recently joined the staff of Guardian Pest Solutions based in Duluth to help in their war against bedbugs. Even when the dog isn't working, she is finding the parasitic insects in training exercises like the wheel test to keep her sharp.

Dogs are the latest tool for pest control specialists dealing with a growing bedbug problem, responding to motels, housing complexes, theaters, private homes and schools to search out and destroy them.

"Because of their incredible noses, they have the ability to smell things you and I don't," said Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman for

National Pest Management Association, a pest control industry group. "They've been proven to be effective."

Working for food, 1-year-old Shelby is the only canine bedbug specialist based in the Northland, company officials said. She has got her own employee file and a big territory to cover - northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

While many breeds could be trained to find bedbugs, smaller dogs like Shelby, a 13-pound Jack Russell-beagle mix, can get into the nooks and crannies better, said entomologist Hao Yu, the company's technical

director.

Although use of DDT all but wiped out the blood-sucking bugs in the last

century, they've been making a comeback in the past decade, largely because of a more mobile society. They stay close to their human hosts, congregating around beds and couches. But the crawlers also are hitchhikers, latching onto suitcases, backpacks and other items and then spreading to other locations.

Ten years ago, Guardian Pest Solutions would get fewer than 10 bedbug calls a year. Now it probably gets 100 inquiries a month in its five-state coverage area, said Michael Johns, the company's regional manager.

A human inspection using eyes alone isn't enough to find them all, Johns said.

"A dog's sense of smell is so much more than humans," he said. "The percentage of a dog's brain that analyzes smells is 40 times greater than humans."

In the case of bedbugs, dogs can detect the sweet musty smell of the wax coating that live bedbugs produce, which is different from dead bedbugs, he said.

Before investing in the dogs, which cost thousands of dollars to train, Guardian Pest Solutions wanted to make sure dogs can, indeed, smell the difference between live and dead bedbugs. Now they're believers.

For clients, using Shelby is optional, costing $180 per hour, which is more than the human inspection alone.

"The dog works fast and they're motivated," Johns said.

Once a bedbug infestation is discovered, the company typically uses high heat to eradicate them. Using a diesel generator mounted on a trailer, they heat the premises to 135 degrees and hold it there for several hours, which kills the bedbugs and their eggs.