Sniffing out bedbugs
Furry and cute, dogs are on the front lines of New York City's war on bedbugs.
Fri, Mar 12, 2010 at 10:09 AM
SLEEP TIGHT: Jack, a 2-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, searches for bedbugs. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Bed bugs, the scourge of urban dwellers, have a new, furry enemy: dogs.
Amid a resurgence of the nocturnal parasites, bed bug-sniffing dogs can inspect an apartment, home or office in minutes. “Adorable yet stunningly accurate,” reports the New York Times, the dogs are “the new and furry front line in an escalating and confounding domestic war.”
The Times profiles Cruiser, a bed bug-sniffing puggle and his handler, Jeremy Ecker, who started The Bed Bug Inspectors about six months ago.
Bed bugs, once killed by pesticides like DDT that are now banned in the United States, are back with a vengeance. In New York City, they are particularly onerous and extremely mobile; they can travel through apartment walls, pipes and wiring.
“Those bugs are everywhere,” said Gale A. Brewer, a New York City Council member who convinced the mayor’s office to convene a bed bug advisory board to address policy shortfalls.
Indeed, last year there were 11,000 bedbug complaints in the city, up from 537 six years earlier, according to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. On blogs like bedbugger.com and newyorkvsbedbugs.com, horror stories abound: a Manhattan woman who spent $9,500 on extermination or bedbugs taking over white-shoe law firms, hotels and hospitals.
Bedbugs have become an impediment in New York’s real estate market, as well. Lori Braverman, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, recently started advising would-be buyers of Manhattan apartments to inspect apartments for bedbugs. “It’s the deep, dark secret of co-ops and condos,” she said.
Well-trained dogs are about 96 percent accurate. In this case, Cruiser was trained at J&K Canine Academy in High Springs, Fla., where rescue dogs learn to detect not only bedbugs, but termites, bombs and some cancers. For the handlers, it requires a big commitment: keep bedbugs and, from time to time, let the bugs bite you in order to feed. (Bedbugs survive on human blood and only need to eat once a month.)
On a recent morning, Ecker and his colleague Oscar Rincon traveled to Brooklyn to inspect a home. The mother had found a dead bedbug floating in her child’s bath the night before; the house next door had a bedbug problem.
Set loose in the house, Cruiser stopped in the child’s room and began pawing the mattress. “That’s where my 2-and-a-half-year-old sleeps,” the mother said. Rincon noted the emotional stress of living with bedbugs. “We see people who literally haven’t slept for weeks. They think everything is a bedbug.”
So far, Rincon hasn’t taken a bug home himself. But, he said, “I never sit down.”