Clod sticks his nose in practically every square inch of the client’s sofa. Focused, he doesn’t stop until he is sure he has found what the client hopes he wouldn’t find –bed bugs.
Blissful to have accomplished his task, Clod — the Chocolate Lab — sits and waits for a treat from his handler, Tom Furey.
“Good boy, Clod, good job!” Tom praises the good boy, as he gives his dog some kibble.
“Clod sits when he finds the bugs,” says Tom. “That’s his signal.”
While most would not dare work amongst creepy critters such as bedbugs, for Tom and Clod, it is just another day at work.
“Some people are actually envious of what I do for a living,” says Tom. “I mean, I get to take my dog to work with me every day — how great is that?”
Tom works for Orkin Canada in St. John’s. He recently travelled to Labrador on his first suspected bed bug call.
When Tom got the job at Orkin two years ago, he and some other senior staff were given the chance to apply for a position as a handler of a K9 bed bug-detection dog — Clod. He is the first dog of his kind Orkin has had in the province.
Tom had a military background. He served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 13 years and he believes that’s what won him the job.
“Working with a dog like Clod, there is a very structured routine and discipline involved,” Tom says.
The Lab was born, raised, and trained as a bed bug detection dog in southern California.
Clod, now four-years old, went through a thorough training regime to become certified in the art of bed bug detection.
“There are dogs out there who are trained to detect multiple items such as different drugs,” said Tom. “But Clod was trained solely to detect bed bugs. If there is even just one egg or one bug, he knows it’s there.”
Clodreceived 600 hours of training to be certified. The training involved getting familiar with the scent of bed bugs, finding dog toys, and then slowly taking away the toys and placing the scent — and planting bugs — elsewhere.
“By the end of the 600 hours, he’s just looking for bed bugs, not the toy,” said Tom.
The partners travel west to Edmonton once a year, where they meet up with other handlers and dogs to recertify their animals.
Tom’s Dream Job
According to Tom, working as Clod’s handler is his ‘dream job.’
“It’s very rewarding,” he says.“These bugs turn people’s lives upside down. They populate fast, they can ruin furniture…but worst of all, they ruin people’s peace of mind. Having these bugs in your house can really mess with your head — the whole psychological factor can be very damaging to a person’s well-being, affecting their sleep, their stress levels, their work.”
Before visiting a home or business, clients are given a prep sheet to prepare for a visit by Tom and Clod. The checklist includes things such as caging any pets, removing pet food dishes, and making sure there are no distracting noises such as televisions and air exchangers.
Tom also carries out a safety check before Clod enters a client’s home. This is to make sure there is no threat or danger to his dog while he does his job.
“I do things like check for dropped medications, like pills, on the floor, under beds, things like that, that could hurt him,” says Tom. “I have to keep him safe.”
According to Tom, he can go into a house and do a complete visual inspection. Then, declare everything is okay, but there are times whenclients might still have doubts.
“But when Clod doesn’t find bed bugs, they feel better — people tend to believe the dog more than the person!” he says.
On his rest days, Clod keeps his senses sharp.
“On the weekends, or on days where we are not working, I still work with him,” says Tom.
Tom has a scent-detection wheel and bed bugs (in sealed vials) and place them around his house for Clod to find.
“I place them all over the house — in my bed, my kids beds, everywhere. This job consumes your life,” he said.
Tom and Clod’s job involves a lot preventative calls. They visit clients to make a complete inspection when it is not evident there.
“We do regular calls for hotels and property managers for apartment buildings, that kind of thing,” says Tom.“We also have regular contracts with individuals who travel frequently for work, and get their homes checked monthly — bed bugs are great hitchhikers.”
Tom and Clod check out about 90%of the hotels in St. John’s. They also check anywhere from 50-60 hotel rooms and 30-35 apartments in a weekly basis.
“We checked out an apartment building with 99 apartments one time, and 47 of the apartments had bed bugs,” Tom recalls. “One of those 47 had 10,000 bedbugs in it.”
Tom mentions that most bedbug issues are not nearly as large in scope.“Most bed bug infestations are not nearly as drastic in a person’s home,” he said. “They’re attracted to body heat and the carbon dioxide we emit when we breathe. They generally stay close to the host so they can feed.”
They also get the occasional calls from taxi companies, boats coming into St. John’s harbor, and other places.
“There is no place we haven’t searched,” notes Tom. He added that bed bugs are on the rise in many public places – shopping malls, airplanes and other modes of public transportation.
According to Tom, the presence of bed bugs is not about sanitation.
“I’ve seen bed bugs in the swankiest 5-star hotels to the worst of the worst apartment building,” he says. “It has nothing to do with cleanliness or dirt.”
In general, Tom wears just his everyday clothes to his calls. But if he is sure that he and Clod will be going into a particularly bad case, he suits up in special gear.
“One of my neighbor’s knows when I get home from a bad scene; I strip off to my underwear as I enter my garage,” chuckles Tom. “Whatever I wore that day goes into a plastic bag and then is tossed into the washer in hot water as soon as possible.”
“I used to feel all itchy and crawly after a job when I first started,” he adds. “But now, it’s just another day at the office.”
Image and article source: The Labradorian