Friday, June 24, 2016
For Paula Kalbli, June 24's "Take Your Pet to Work Day" is every day.
Kalbli's dog, Rosie, a 7-year-old Dachshund/Jack Russell Terrier mix, does something rather different than most dogs: she sniffs out bed bugs.
Together this duo, along with seven others, work at Rose Pest Solutions in the K-9 division, which started in 2011 almost 160 years after Rose was founded. The division is supervised by board-certified entomologists.
"Rose just knew this was an itch that needed to be – we needed dogs to help with the infestations coming about and something more proactive," Kalbli said.
The division is just another one of their tools to get proactive.
"I think the bed bug thing is still kind of a newer thing so when people hear that there are dogs for it, it's kind of surprising," Kalbli said.
Take Your Pet to Work... every day
"I love working with her every day. This is my dream job," Kalbli said. "I really like the fact that I can worry and focus on our relationship and our finding bugs, and the company's good – I don't have to worry so much about the customer or the business end of it."
My job is to make sure she's working well and that works for me," Kalbli said. "I take my dog to work every day and then she comes home with me. I'm with her all the time."
All of the dogs are rescue dogs from J&K Canine Academy in Florida, although Rosie's backstory is a mystery.
Rosie, along with the other dogs, is handpicked for their big appetite and high energy because of the work they are expected to do and the focus they need.
"They have to stay focused. They have to have a strong food drive to want to work. So they're not couch potatoes," Kalbli said.
Sniffing out the bed bugs
The way it works is similar to a drug dog or an explosive scent-detection dog. Everything has an odor and the dogs at Rose are trained on the bed bug odor.
First, the account managers will scope out the issue and then decide if it's time to call in the dogs.
Once the dogs are at the scene, it's a comprehensive process, going left-to-right in a pattern, checking furniture and other items to ensure the bugs are detected, if they're present.
If the customers are uncomfortable due to allergies or they just don't like dogs, then the handlers have them go into another room.
Whatever works to keep the customer comfortable and the dog focused, free from distraction, Kalbli said.
The dogs are also kept on a leash so the handlers can maintain control, as sometimes the dogs may be tempted to seek out treats that aren't the crawly bed bugs.
"We aren't sure what they are detecting, but they can differentiate between live bugs and dead bugs," Kalbli said.
They're not fazed by the fecal matter the bugs leave behind, either, she said.
And the dogs are much better than a human could be at detecting bed bugs – they are more than 97 percent accurate.
The problem with a human trying to detect the tiny bed bugs is where they can hide. For instance, Kalbli said they found a bug one time in the hole in the head of a screw of a bedpost.
"It's hard for us to find because you can't really take a bed apart and look at it, but the dogs can smell it, sniff out the odor," Kalbli said.
Whether it's a few bugs or an infestation of hundreds of bugs, the dogs will be able to work the site and detect them.
Then when the dogs do find the source of the odor, they scratch at the source and come back to the handler for their treat: food.
"We're just here to tell you what's up," Kalbli said.
The K-9 unit does the inspection -- the discovery -- and then it's the account managers who go in with the pesticides to deal with curing of the infestation.
Sometimes the K-9 unit is dispatched to do whole college campuses, which take four to five hours a day over a few days.
Apartments, nursing homes, offices are other hotspots.
"Anywhere there are people, there are bugs," Kalbli said.
The job is about knowing how their dogs will react.
"Although it looks like we're just walking around with a leash, we're not," Kalbli said. "We're working really hard and reading the dog and making note of the environment."
Every dog is pretty well-equipped to handle any situation, like a loud room or a loud building or the varying surfaces they have to walk on. Every handler and dog pair -- every dogs different -- everybody knows their dog's quirks, Kalbli said.
The Dynamic Duo
Kalbli and Rosie have been together for the last four years, with Rosie as her teammate, coworker, and, well, roommate.
While Rosie belongs to Rose and they pay for veterinarian visits, all the dogs live with their handlers.
"I make sure that she's feeling okay when we work, that she's getting enough to eat, that she's up to date on her shots."
Kalbli has another dog, but she's the pet, the "dumb one," Kalbli affectionately said. And he gets jealous.
"His job is to sit on the couch with me," she said.
And Kalbli's not concerned about accidentally taking bugs home with her or Rosie.
"We're pretty proactive about it," she said. "When we get home, we'll throw our clothes in the dryer and if there's anything on there, it kills it."
Bed bugs can't fly or jump, so there's no particular worry about them catching on to the clothing or the dog's fur. It's not like a tic, Kalbli said.
Kalbli said they typically train on the weekends, but when Rosie isn't working and gets her moment to chill, her favorite "off-duty" activity is to play tug.
"Her favorite thing to do is to attack toys," Kalbli said.
Handlers and their dogs
So far, there's been no push-back from animal organizations or individuals, Kalbli said.
"We treat our dogs pretty well. They've got it pretty cushy," she said. "And honestly, our dogs enjoy working. If she [Rosie] wasn't doing something, she would go crazy. If she had not been rescued, I don't know what would have happened to her. I couldn't imagine her being a pet."
The dogs have a job to do and they take it seriously, Kalbli added.
"I make sure that she's feeling okay when we work, that she's getting enough to eat, that she's up to date on her shots," Kalbli said.
As for the handlers, they're there because it's the job they wanted.
"We all want to be here and take care of the dogs," Kalbli said.
Kalbli worked with the National K-9 Learning Center in Columbus in 2009. Then she trained dogs on her own for a little while before working with Invisible Fence for seven years.
One of her coworkers alerted her to Rose and she said she needed a change.
Kalbli takes the same Ohio testing for pest control as anyone else at Rose, they just don't apply the pesticides.
"I've been training dogs for 13 years," Kalbli said. "I got on board with the dogs."
The handler and the dog are also annually certified together by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.
They are put into a room with the vile of bugs out with distractors, like fecal matter or dead bugs, and the dogs must alert only on the live bugs, not any of the dead ones.
So far, they've passed every year.
"She's one of our oldest dogs," Kalbli said. "She'll be working a long time. She's not gonna slow down anytime soon. It just depends on the personality."
Bed bug advice
While bed bugs are not considered a medical or a public health hazard by the CDC, they can still be an annoyance because they cause itching and for some, a serious allergic reaction, the site said.
Don't buy used furniture or take furniture out of the dumpster, Kalbli said.
"Keep your eye out. If you've been somewhere that you think you've been in contact with them," she said.
Mattress covers are a good way to spot them, too. Bed bugs can be seen by the naked eye, identifiable by the appearance of small brownish or reddish dots on bedding, mattresses, and furniture, according to their website.
And change your linens weekly, Kalbli said.
Click here for the full article "Take Your Pet to Work Day' is every day for this pest controller" in the Cincinnati Enquirer >
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