June sniffed along the floor boards, behind the furniture and between the couch cushions. She worked the room carefully and quickly – smelling for the faint scent of bed bugs which had been carefully hidden in a controlled environment. The exercise is one the black Labrador has done many times before – both as a test and for actual detection.
June is a working canine, rescued by Sprague Pest Solutions in December 2010 to detect bed bugs in commercial and residential buildings. June, one of three Sprague canines, has been carefully trained and NESDCA (National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association) certified to determine if and where bed bugs are present in a building. She can locate live bed bug odors in a room in less than five minutes – checking behind bed headboards, in mattresses, box springs and bed frames, night stands, lamps, clocks and phones, along carpet edges and baseboards and in sofas and chairs.
All Sprague bed bug canines are trained using the same methodology as bomb-sniffing, drug and termite dogs. Handlers are certified by canine master trainers as well. Lindsey Marker of Sprague is certified to handle June and to point out bed bugs to a building owner after June has indicated a presence of the pest. The pair has inspected hundreds of hotel rooms, commercial buildings and residential homes in Utah, Idaho and Colorado, and the number of inspections requests are increasing rapidly.
"We find bed bugs all of the time," said Marker. "Many people still tend to put blinders on and act like they are not here, but they are here."
Bed bugs re-infested the United States in the early 1990s. In the early years, the pest hitchhiked to coastal cities on unsuspecting overseas travelers. Eventually, the pest started making its way inland, where it is being found more and more often, said David Wright, an account manager with Sprague Pest Solutions.
"There is nothing you can do to prevent bed bugs from entering buildings and homes," Wright said. "But the sooner you detect them, the easier they are to get rid of and the less liability you have as a building owner."
Hotels, multifamily housing and retail centers have been requesting inspections – a process that has been greatly enhanced by the use of working canines like June – on a more frequent basis. This is where June and Marker come in. With her keen sense of smell, June can accurately detect the bed bugs and their eggs in the smallest cracks and crevices without disrupting the room, which would occur during a human inspection. To indicate a presence of the pest, June sits or paws near a location that is harboring bed bugs. Marker takes note of these locations and returns after the initial inspection to visually pinpoint the pests to the building owner and recommend a treatment for the area.
"June has found bed bugs in places where you would never know there were bed bugs," Marker said. "She is trained on a low tolerance, and can find a viable egg or one bug. Sometimes June will walk into a room where there is a substantial infestation of bed bugs, and she will shut down. She doesn't know how to handle it. She can't even alert because the room is so full of live bed bug odors it's just one big alert for her."
As a working animal, June is handled differently than the normal household pet. She is fed only when she detects bed bugs. She is rewarded whenever she locates the pests, and on days when she isn't working, Marker will hide vials of bed bugs for June to detect, part of her 365 days of training per year.
"At Sprague, the dogs come first," said Marker. June and the other dogs, April and May, will work until they are no longer interested in detecting bed bugs or until they show signs of aging that prevent them from working. "June is a go-getter. She has a whole lot of energy that needs to be directed somewhere, so I think she will do this for a long time before retirement."