Man’s best friend lends his nose to bedbug battle

WALTER PENNY AND his dog, Macaroni, made the rounds this week sniffing out bedbugs at local hotels and motels.

Walter Penny dreams of the day when hotels and motels everywhere will proudly display stickers on their front doors ensuring their beds, furniture and drapes are bedbug-free. Until then, Penny, and his bedbug-sniffing dog, Macaroni, have a lot of work to do.

“I think bedbugs are gross,” Penny said during a recent demonstration of Macaroni’s sniffing abilities. “Nobody should have to deal with that.”

Penny, the sole owner and operator of Colorado Bed Bugs K9, made the rounds to local hotels and motels Wednesday — towed by his lanky, four-legged friend — gauging interest in his services. Macaroni, a yellow Lab and Whippet mix, is the only certified bedbug-sniffing dog in the state. With 700 hours of training, Macaroni can detect a bedbug infestation within a range of less than a foot, Penny said.

“Seek, seek, seek,” he instructed Macaroni, as the dog sniffed a series of six containers before stopping on one that contains the pests. The dog then sits and waits.

“Good boy!” Penny said, rewarding the year-old dog with a treat. “You are a wonder mutt from the shelter.”

Bedbugs are not a filth issue, like cockroaches, and can infest anywhere from the best of hotels to a homeless shelter, Penny said. Infestations of bedbugs are not only on the rise in local lodging establishments, but they can inhabit work spaces, apartment complexes, city buses, the guest bedroom — you name it. Bedbugs, tiny wingless creatures that feed on
warm-blooded mammals in the dark, can thrive just about anywhere.

“Whenever you’re in a room that’s severely infested, you can smell them and see them,” he said. “To me it smells kind of raspberry-like.”

Penny worked in pest control for a year and “saw how bad the problem is in Denver and Colorado.” He collected samples of the blood-sucking creatures from discarded furniture found in alleyways in Denver and uses the bugs to train Macaroni. The worst case of infestation he’s seen was walking into a home and seeing a man seated with the creatures crawling all over him and everywhere else. Another time, Penny found and exterminated bedbugs hiding in curtains at an assisted-living home.

“You know it’s gotten bad when they’re selling bedbug encasements at Bed, Bath & Beyond,” he said of the covers for mattresses and box springs that ensure the bugs cannot gather there.

Sometimes an infestation is not readily apparent, as the bug’s eggs are tiny and clear, and the creatures can burrow into the smallest of crevices. That’s where Macaroni comes in. The dog can detect up to 90 percent of infestations, while human inspectors catch up to about 40 percent, he said. Also, his dog can sniff a whole room for the pests in about 15 minutes, when it may take humans up to an hour, Penny said.

A shift from the use of toxic DDT, a rise in international travel and immigration, and less effective bedbug pesticides are partly to blame for a rise in the annoying creatures, he said.

Penny didn’t disclose the price of his services but said it would depend on the number of rooms or structures inspected and time spent. If Macaroni alerts on bedbugs, Penny offers consulting about how best to exterminate them.

“A lot of people want to throw everything away, but you don’t have to do that,” he said.

Penny said he hopes to further educate the public about bedbugs, adding, “Anybody can get them.”


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