Dog, handler sniff out bedbugs
Most people would shudder at the thought of letting live bedbugs feed from their forearm.
Jude Sirota keeps the tiny parasitic cimicidae in vials in her garage on Orchard Mesa. She needs the bugs to be alive, and well fed, in order to train her new bedbug-detecting dog, Ellie.
“Most people wouldn’t even notice if they were bitten,” Sirota said while describing the telltale droplets of blood the bugs leave behind on white linen.
Sirota served 13 years as the weed inspector for Mesa County. Sirota, also an entomologist, found herself looking for a new line of work after being laid off.
She had been interested in training dogs to detect noxious weeds as part of her job with the county, but that idea never took root.
“With all the hotels, dorm rooms and apartment buildings here, I thought bedbug detection might be a good business,” Sirota said.
Last fall, Sirota went to the Falco K9 Academy in Brea, Calif., one of only a handful of facilities in the U.S. for training dogs for this line of work. At the academy, she purchased and learned to handle her new German shepherd-mix puppy.
While there, Ellie was trained to detect live bedbugs that may be living behind or in furniture, walls and carpet.
As a handler, Sirota was trained how to properly inspect a room, watch and understand the dog’s signals, and how to reward Ellie with a toy instead of treats.
The duo trains most days of the week using live bedbugs in vials that are hidden either in a line of buckets or in mock-search situations in a home.
Together they are certified in bedbug detection and do business as Canine Scent Inspections, or CSI.
“I know that bedbugs are here, and they’ve been identified in a number of places,” Sirota said. “I need to convince the hospitality industry that they need to be inspected periodically for prevention.”
CSI has been working with a number of local pest-control companies to help identify the pesky bugs.
“It’s a matter of time and effectiveness. Ellie can search a room in five minutes, where a human takes an hour. She’s also 97 percent accurate,” Sirota said.
Sirota also understands the stigma and embarrassment some customers may feel about bedbug detection.
“We try to be very discreet,” she said, adding there are no signs on her truck or anything to identify Ellie as a service animal.