Dog bites bug
Bed bugs are back, but this time dogs are taking the lead in sniffing out the nasty pests.
Thu, Oct 22, 2009 at 06:12 PM
Photo: Getty Images
Dogs are known for all kinds of cool talents — sniffing out bombs and drugs, walking on their two hind legs and finding Timmy down the well. But it turns out that dogs can also keep bugs out of your bed, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article.
Though bed bugs were largely wiped out after World War II, the bloodsucking creatures are back with a vengeance. Over the past four years they’ve spread from coast to coast and left tenants and landlords with skin welts and extermination bills to boot.
Though humans can sometimes spot the tiny bugs, dogs are much better at detecting bed bugs because they can smell the faint chemical odors known as pheromones that the bugs send to one another.
No one really knows why bed bugs are back. According to the Times, scientists think that they either latched onto overseas cargo, are more resistant to pesticides than their ancestors or that a new superbug has evolved.
The issue is so urgent that the EPA recently convened the first National Bed Bug Summit, which brought together the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pentagon, state and federal housing officials, experts and exterminators to figure out how to get rid of the bugs.
“A year ago, I thought bed bugs were a thing from a couple of centuries ago or maybe in a children's nursery rhyme,” New Jersey state Assemblywoman Joan Quigley told the summit. “I had no idea they were a modern scourge.”
Quigley is sponsoring a bill that requires landlords to pay for bed bug eradication in most cases or face a fine.
Meanwhile, bed bug exterminators are riding high on the infestation opportunity.
At Action Termite and Pest Control in New Jersey, General Manager John Russell said his business had grown 30 percent this year thanks to his dogs.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said. “We used to get maybe one or two calls a year. Now we get 10 to 15 a day.”
He recently received an $80,000 contract to get rid of bed bugs from four apartment blocks owned by the Atlantic City Housing Authority.
Trainers are also making good on bug-sniffing dogs. Bill Whitstine, who heads the Florida Canine Academy in Safety Harbor, Fla., charges $8,700 for a package deal – two months' training for the dog and one week for the handler. He has sold about 100 animals.
Though dogs are proven to be excellent bed bug hunters, buyers should beware that some pest control companies use dogs as a gimmick to exploit people's fears in order to make more money.
“There are a lot of scams out there,” warned Gary Alpert, an entomologist at Harvard University who specializes in bed bugs.
It’s not that the dogs are lying, per se. It’s just that if dogs learn they are given a reward when they "alert" for a bed bug, they may alert just to get the treat. Handlers can easily spot this devious behavior — but not if they are inexperienced, or worse, dishonest.
“You can waste a lot of money very quickly,” Alpert said. “Some handlers have no idea what a bed bug looks like.”
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