September 6, 2010

Earning his keep

Rascal alerts to some bed bugs hidden in this office chair during a training session.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Life for a working dog in the pest control trenches means you if you don't sniff out the bugs, you don't eat. That's no problem for Rascal, the bed bug-sniffing beagle. He's well fed, and earning his keep.
Twice a day Rascal is put through the paces, methodically making his way around a room that has been booby-trapped with vials of crawling bed bugs and their microscopic eggs. And twice a day, Rascal prevails, routinely sniffing out the pesky pests planted there by his pest control team mates at Pest End Inc., Adam Carace and Courtney Nicholson, a training regimen that keeps Rascal's scent receptors finely tuned.
I was skeptical that a dog could be more effective than a visual human inspection. Then I saw Rascal in action,” said Carace.
Rascal joined the exterminator team in June. Although the dog's primary incentive is earning a meal every time he successfully roots out the bugs, his success is directly related to the intensive training received through J&K Canine Academy in Gainesville, Fla., which specializes in teaching dogs to hunt termites and bed bugs.
A live bed bug found locally, now used for training.
Given the surge in reported bed bug sightings across the country, these dogs are in high demand.
According to a recent survey of 1,000 exterminators by the National Pest Management Association, there has been an 81 percent increase in bed bug cases over the past decade; nearly every company polled said they fielded at least one bed bug case in the past year.
Although bed bugs were once common in the U.S., they were eradicated with the advance of chemical pesticides around the time of WWII.
Their resurgence here is directly related to two things, said Nancy Carace, who runs the family-owned pest control business with her husband, Andy. First, an increase in international travel – bed bugs are notorious hitchhikers and can easily hide in clothing, luggage and blankets. Secondly, the U.S. ban on the chemical DDT in 1972, which created a less hostile environment for the tiny critters.
Adam Carace said he fielded his first bed bug complaint about eight years ago. Since then, demand for bed bug inspections has been on the rise as the persistent pests have slowly been creeping back into the local landscape. In the last six months, that demand is off the charts.
Yes, some of it might be paranoia because it's all over the news. But they're definitely out there. Rascal has jobs scheduled every day, from Boston to Concord,” said Carace, mentioning a recent job that involved inspection of 96 apartments after bed bugs were suspected in one of the units.
In that case, the bed bugs were contained in only one apartment, but you have to check all the apartments. That's how bed bugs spread,” Carace said.
The most effective way to kill bed bugs and their eggs is through superheating a room to at least 113 degrees fahrenheit, then steaming and vacuuming the room clean of bug debris.
You can see by the stories in the news that no one is immune. Kids coming home from college can bring them into beautiful multi-million dollar homes. Abercrombie & Fitch stores in New York are battling the bugs, which may be coming from the warehouses,” Nancy Carace said. “If you told me 10 years ago I'd be making money on bed begs I don't know if I would have believed you.”
Rascal waits in seclusion while Courtney Nicholson plants some bugs around the office, part of the dog's twice daily in-house circuit training, although they also do training off site, just to keep him on his toes.
Courtney Nicholson works with Rascal during a training session.
Find your 'Bs,” prompts Nicholson – that's code for bed bugs, which is used mainly to avoid freaking out home owners, hotel guests or apartment dwellers who might not know what Rascal's sniffing around for when he shows up to work a site.
The dog begins at one corner of the room and, tail wagging, sniffs his way around without hesitation until he gets to a stack of boxes. Rascal puts his paws up on one of the boxes and begins to scratch vigorously, his signal that something smells like bed bugs.
Good boy,” says Nicholson, pulling a handful of kibble from her fanny pack and allowing the dog to feast for a minute.
Then it's back to work, picking up the bed bug scent where his nose left off. Before he's finished sweeping the room, Rascal has detected all four vials that were planted in the room. 
Although the dogs aren't 100 percent effective, they're track record is pretty good,” explains Adam Carace. “There are always going to be variables that effect their ability to find the bugs, but overall, Rascal is far more efficient and effective than me.”

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