By Lauren Bedosky
When Adam’s Pest Control gets a call about a possible bedbug infestation, they can usually go out and find the offenders with a visual inspection.
“If they’ve got a medium to heavy infestation, they’re pretty easy to find quickly,” says Todd Leyse, president of Adam’s. But if it’s a small infestation, or a visual inspection brings up nothing, they’ll bring in their secret weapon: Marvin the Bedbug Beagle.
In the company of his handler, Marvin, a trained bedbug detector purchased from IronHeart High Performance Working Dogs in Kansas, will sniff high and low in the search for the bedbugs, sometimes covering larger venues like movie theaters and apartment buildings.
Though it’s possible to see bedbugs and their eggs with the naked eye, dogs like Marvin can find them much more quickly, even in odd places like behind photo frames and clocks. When he finds one, he’ll sit down to let his handler know.
Leyse compares a dog’s sense of smell with his own: “When I came home and mom had cooked roast beef vegetable stew all day, you could walk in the door and you knew exactly what was for dinner. Whereas a dog would walk in and go, ‘I got beef, vegetables, celery, carrots, stock, pepper, salt.’ They can detect all the different individual smells.”
According to Leyse, many of the dogs trained to sniff out bedbugs are taught in a classroom setting, in made-up hotel rooms or sterile environments. “But there’s nobody living there,” Leyse says. “There’s nobody cooking greasy foods that have a lot of smell and odor to them. And there’s no kids around, no TV on, stuff like that.”
Marvin, on the other hand, was acclimated to distractions, and people are even allowed to stand by and watch him do his job.
Will work for treats
Though Marvin works for Adam’s only half-days five days per week, being a bedbug Beagle is a full-time commitment, which can eventually take its toll on the dog.
In fact, Marvin used to have a companion bedbug detector named Hector, a Labrador-Doberman mix. However, Hector started getting over-stressed and had to retire earlier this year. He now lives with his handler as a home pet.
Marvin also lives with his handler. Nick Hazzard—Marvin’s third handler in the eight years he’s been with Adam’s—trains him even during off-hours. Twice a day at home, Hazzard will hide a vial of bedbugs that Marvin has to find in order to get fed.
“His favorite thing in the whole world is a Greenies dental chew,” Hazzard says. “He will do anything you say for one of those.”
And whereas other bedbug detecting companies operate by rewarding the dog every time it sits down (the signal that it’s found a bedbug), the handlers at Adam’s won’t reward the dog unless there is in fact a bedbug.
“The dog has to wait just a little bit, but that way the dog doesn’t fake you out,” Leyse explains, recalling one instance when a homeowner called because another bedbug detecting dog alerted in 30 places. Marvin went in and didn’t alert once.
So which dog was right? “I’d stack ours up against anyone because our dog doesn’t have a vested interest in not finding bugs,” Leyse says.
Lauren Bedosky is a Minnesota-based freelance writer. She lives in Brooklyn Park with her husband and their three dogs: Moose, Otter, and Squirrel.