- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Willy, an 18-month-old corgi-Chihuahua mix, was on a mission when he entered a South Bend home.

His goal? To find three vials with living bedbugs by sniffing their scent.

The dog was accompanied by a canine handler during the demonstration by Rose Pest Solutions at the residence of a Tribune reporter. Willy first found a vial hidden beneath a bed mattress, scratching the area to alert the handler. He then found the other two vials wedged between the cushions of a couch, finishing the entire task in about one minute.

Dogs are increasingly being used by the pest-control industry as a tool in the fight against bedbugs. When properly trained, dogs use their keen sense of smell - about a thousand times more sensitive than a human - to find bedbugs much faster than pest-control technicians and with better accuracy, said Monica Gruss, Willy’s handler. The pair serve clients in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

“The dog’s nose can pick up things that our eyes can’t. We can do a small apartment in about two or three minutes, but a technician would have to go in and tear the bed apart,” said Gruss, who lives with Willy in Benton Harbor. The dogs are rewarded with food when they find bedbugs. Even when Willy is at home, he is allowed to eat only after finding a hidden vial of bedbugs.

Rose, which has a district office in South Bend, began using dogs to search for bedbugs in 2011. It has eight certified handlers with trained dogs, offering the service in northern Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, along with portions of Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Terry Giffin, canine division manager for Rose who is based in Lansing, said the dogs are especially effective for searching apartment complexes, schools and hospitals. The majority of its clients are apartment complexes that routinely check for bedbugs. The cost to search up to 20 apartments is $375.

“It takes humans about 20 minutes per apartment, and they’re going to charge by the hour. Dogs are much more economical,” Giffin said.

Rose’s dogs are typically adopted from shelters. Willy, for example, was adopted last year at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Michigan. Sandy Clark, the shelter’s lead kennel attendant, said Willy might not have been adopted if Rose hadn’t claimed him.

“He was returned by a family because he was a little bit too energetic,” she said. “But he fit Rose’s profile because of his high-energy behavior.”

For his part, Giffin said the company looks for “young dogs at shelters that are high-energy and food-driven. Some aren’t properly socialized or obedient, but we take them in.”

Not many pest-control businesses use dogs to detect bedbugs because of the cost, Giffin said. At Rose, each dog completes a three-month, $12,000 training program offered by Scentworx in High Springs, Florida The dogs are trained to pick up the scent of living bedbugs and their eggs.

About 450 bedbug-sniffing dogs have been trained over the past five years at Scentworx, said Pepe Peruyero, CEO of the company. He said dogs are going to be increasingly used by the pest-control industry because of their effectiveness. Field studies have shown the company’s dogs are about 95 percent accurate at detecting bedbugs, making false reports only about 5 percent of the time.

“A technician can search a room and find evidence, such as a dead bedbug or fecal matter, and say he thinks there are bugs and treat it. But a dog can go into a pristine room with no evidence at all, and it can smell a bedbug inside a mattress,” Peruyero said.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/28NcNAg

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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