September 30, 2008 in City

Canine communication’s come a long way since ‘Lassie’

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Before going any further I would like to assure the public that the Doubletree Hotel does NOT have bedbugs.

As far as I know.

But on Monday it sure did. Two sealed jars chock full of the tiny bloodsuckers were carried up to room 610 at the downtown Spokane hotel. Keith Rowney, an exterminator, brought them to show off the powers of April, who is billed as the Northwest’s first bedbug-detecting dog.

Rowney is the special service manager for Sprague, a Tacoma-based pest control company with branches in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana.

In a shocking lapse of judgment, I was personally invited to witness this bedbuggy event. Several TV news crews were on hand, too.

(You can always count on journalists to turn out for a vermin story. We consider it covering our own kind.)

Rowney, a certified bedbug dog handler, soon put April to work trying to locate the bottles that he had hidden under the bed while the dog was out in the hall.

“Seek. Seek. Seek.” said Rowney as 3-year-old April sniffed about.

Don’t worry, prospective Doubletree lodgers. Rowney never opened the jars.

He did reward the Labrador mix with a treat whenever April signaled that she had found the bug bottles.

Honestly? It was a little difficult to tell whether April actually found the jars.

I guess I was spoiled as a kid by the old “Lassie” television show. Whenever little Timmy would fall down a well (about every week, as I recall), Lassie would write the sheriff a detailed note in cursive on where to look, including longitude and latitude.

April’s communication skills are more subtle. But I’m certain she knows what she’s doing.

This is a variation of the same training given to dogs that sniff out bombs, drugs, dead bodies and escaped convicts.

Plus, I already saw a bedbug-detecting dog at work on an episode of “Verminators,” one of my all-time favorite TV reality shows. Each episode features a crew of exterminators who confront incursions of rats, cockroaches, spiders, African bees …

Science has long known how incredible a dog’s sense of smell is. Dog noses, in fact, are a bazillion times more powerful than human noses.

A snobby wine aficionado, for example, might sniff a cork and relay information like …

“This Merlot has a hint of diesel and a sweaty Methodist overtone.”

A dog, however, would sniff the same cork and tell you …

“The snobby wine aficionado who just touched the cork doesn’t wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom.”

Cats have very sensitive noses, too. But it’s nearly impossible to train a cat to do anything.

Say you dropped dead in your living room. A dog would sit there and stand guard over your corpse like a loyal friend. A cat would just sit staring at your body and think: Dinner.

April, said Rowney, was rescued from an animal shelter and trained to detect not only the aroma of bedbugs but bedbug eggs. Yum.

For years, the only time you heard bedbugs mentioned was from some corny old coot who still considered “don’t let the bedbugs bite” a hilarious one-liner.

Bedbugs, much like Britney Spears, have made a huge comeback. True, the smaller parasites are a lot better at parenting. But bedbugs are now popping up on cruise ships, movie theaters, airlines, hospitals, Rosie O’Donnell, apartments, luggage …

Why, just last week part of the main lobby at the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital had to be sealed off due to bedbugs that were spotted crawling out of a backpack.

So you can see why there is a growing demand for good bedbug dogs. April, added Rowney, can cover 20 hotel rooms in an hour.

Writing this stuff has given me a case of the creepy-crawlies.

But it was worth it just to meet April. The long and lean Lab was the depiction of doggie bliss as she ran about, wagging her tail and being nice to everybody, even the phony TV people.

At one point she gave my left hand a slobbery kiss. I was overcome with a deep sense of relief that April was well-mannered enough not to sniff me and make the bedbug signal.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@ spokesman.com.


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