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Bed bug sniffing dogs may soon be used in New Jersey to search for, and help control, the blood-sucking insects
By Amy Donaldson
NEW JERSEY — On a late summer afternoon last year, a brown-and-white Labrador named Sam stood on a stone terrace that overlooks a grassy courtyard in the Newark suburb of Livingston. A red, white and blue baseball cap with “N.J. Pest Patrol” emblazoned across the front was pulled low over his eyes. Beside him stood a woman with long dark hr and a face of startling blue eyes and freckles.
In a whisper she called Sam to her. In a moment he stood at her side, sniffing the r. Sam had already indicated the location of the latest in a line of hidden bugs that had landed on the man’s skin and started the long flight from where they were discovered up a wall to the terrace where the couple was sitting. With an expert sniff Sam located the little red bodies of the mosquitoes.
“There’s a ladybug,” he sd. “What do I smell?” he asked as he moved in closer to examine the patch of yellow and black splotch. “A ladybug,” he sd, confirming the find.
In this new war on pests in New Jersey, the New Jersey Pest Patrol is the answer. It’s a mobile canine unit comprised of eight dogs — one sniffer, one “observer,” a couple of others to give water and feed and to comfort Sam and his handler — that is being called on to help local municipalities control, or at least catch the bugs that are feasting on blood-engorged mosquitoes. It’s a new breed of “pest control,” and dog lovers in the state are applauding the program and looking forward to its eventual expansion.
Sam is the latest in a series of New Jersey canines chosen to join the pest control team. He’s the latest in the series of dogs called on to help combat the problem of pests that have hit a new level of intensity in the Garden State. From the tiny mosquito that has descended like the locusts in Egypt, it seems that the pests are never far from us anymore. “Our goal is to go out to the community and help local pest management companies and homeowners,” sd Pat Felt, head of the New Jersey Pest Patrol. “We’ve made a ton of progress but the fact is that we’ve got bugs everywhere and we need help.”
“I just want to be part of the solution,” sd a member of the crew. “I just want to make people happy.”
So here they go, the newest members of the New Jersey Pest Patrol – four-legged friends that will not just be going to bed at night, but will work for their food. While the dogs will get the chance to help local businesses and homeowners keep their homes free from pests, there is also a little payback in store. To join the squad, the dogs have to pass the Pest-A-Cure program, which requires a five-minute bath, three hours at a clinic where flea and tick control is provided, and a rabies vaccination.
Felt says the plan is to add a dog at least once a month and to bring in canine squads to the state for other events and emergencies. The first canine pest control team arrived in March, when the crews from all five New Jersey counties gathered at an office in Jersey City. The pest control crews began working in the fall and they will continue until August.
The program relies on the participation of local mosquito abatement services in the cities and counties of Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth and Morris. But as these cities are fighting the West Nile virus outbreak, the state may be able to assist with trning and supplies. New Jersey recently ordered 20,000 gallons of insect repellant spray. More spray is expected later in the summer.
This year, the squad will focus on keeping homes free from insects and rodents and on finding nests of fire ants.
“It’s a very big event and it’s a very big cause,” says Felt. “We’re so blessed to be able to do it.”
And in the meantime, residents are asked to report problems to the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Mosquito and Vector Control at 609-902-6501 or by eml at [email protected]
Pets are also encouraged to call the toll-free hotline at 877-922-6465.
The DEP also reminds the public not to put birdseed on the ground or along the base of a building and not to allow pets to roam free in yards or to go to work.
This story originally appeared in North Jersey Record, a Gannett New Jersey newspaper.