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Portage dog sniffs out bed bugs

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PORTAGE │ The fight against bed bug infestation has gone to the dogs – literally.

There are all types of service dogs, but most people have never heard of one that can sniff out bed bugs for a living and do it successfully.

Meet Star, a Harrier Beagle owned by Dennis and Marian Herndon, of Portage. They are the owners of K9 Bed Bug Busters, a canine scent detection company that uses Star as an effective weapon for the early detection of bed bugs to combat the growing epidemic in the Midwest. K9’s proactive canine bed bug inspections are designed to detect bedbug infestations “before they become a physical and financial nightmare.”

“She is an awesome dog,” Marian said.

What led the Herndons to Star, which they have had since 2011, was a story they heard on NPR about the resurgence of bed bugs.

“They mentioned the dogs,” Dennis said.

Dennis has lifelong experience around hunting dogs, having trained and handled them along with his father. His mother was a dog breeder.

“I’ve been around dogs and dog behavior my whole life,” he said.

His last bird dog had just passed away, so Herndon was looking for something else to do with dogs.

“Bird hunting isn’t what it used to be around here,” he said.

Dennis was also interested in doing something with a dog that could also act as a second income. That’s when the NPR report came out and Dennis found out about a new kind of service dog.

“This is called urban hunting,” he said.

The Herndons discovered J & K Canine Academy in High Springs, Fla., where Star was trained. J & K is recognized as the “gold standard” in the entomology canine detection field for training scent detection dogs and known as the only bed bug program in the world with scientifically proven results from the University of Florida. The dogs are certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association and Star is certified through International Pest Management Association.

The Herndons spent five days in training to learn how Star works and how to handle her.

“Everything she does she’s trained to do,” Dennis said. “She’s been imprinted to do what she does. And we do a certain search pattern and always enter in the door to the left. That way we make sure we hit everything without having to think about it. Once you do the perimeter you do the center and walk out.”

She only eats when she works or trains, and the Herndons train her twice a day.

“If she’s not working she gets trained,” Dennis said. “We haven’t taken a vacation together since we got her.”

Star also gets “couch time.”

“You still have to have a relationship with the dog,” Marian said. “That dog still has to love you. We give Star the most fun she’s having is when she goes to work. She is all excited and ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

K9 works with hotels, apartment and condominium buildings, senior housing and private homes and businesses and even vehicles.

Star has detected bed bugs in couches bought from eBay and retail store computer boxes. Second-hand products from second-hand stores are a big culprit.

“When we first started doing this about 80 percent of the jobs were clean with no hits,” Dennis said. Now about 80 percent of the jobs we go on are hits. It’s getting worse.”

Clients include Best Western Plus on U.S. 20 in Portage.

“It’s a proactive program at the hotel,” Marian said.

Marian said travelers are more likely to stay at a hotel that regularly inspects for bed bugs.

For more information on Star visit www.k9bedbugbusters.com.

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