Beagles to Sniff Out Bedbugs at Wausau Office

May 8, 2015 | Nora G. Hertel 

Thermal Remediation service provider Batzner Pest Control is using bedbug-sniffing dogs to detect bedbugs in a Wausau, WI conference center.

At least one bedbug-sniffing beagle will go through the Westwood Conference Center Monday to help determine if the number of pests has grown beyond the seven confirmed bugs sighted in the West Corp. offices since April 20.

The beagles will come with Batzner Pest Control, one of a handful of experts employed to detect or kill the bugs in the conference center on Wausau's far west side.

"They're investigating, bringing in dogs to sniff out the bedbugs," said Marathon County Environmental Health and Safety Director Dale Grosskurth. "They're really doing everything reasonable."

The county health department learned the bedbugs had infiltrated the center when an employee reported it about a week and a half ago. The parasites don't spread disease or pose a public health risk, so the county is only peripherally involved as a resource, Grosskurth said.

The bugs were first spotted on the Westwood Conference Center's third floor April 20 and treatments were sprayed April 22 and April 27, according to an email from Dave Pleiss, West Corp. vice president of investor and public relations.

When an employee came forward to report a bedbug infestation at home, the company put the employee on leave until the residence is proven bedbug-free, Pleiss said.

Another bedbug was found Tuesday, so other Westwood tenants were notified and pest-control efforts ramped up. The bugs have stayed confined to a small part of the office, Pleiss said.

Release the hounds!

Batzner's anti-bedbug operation includes three beagles, named Lucy, Hunter and Simon, who can sniff out live insects and their eggs.

When the dog identifies a hot spot, it will scratch the area. The breed is good for the task because of its sensitive sniffers and size, said Cassadie Luedke, Batzner's bedbug service coordinator. As a mid-size dog, beagles can fit into crevices or jump on desks if necessary. And if its handler needs to lift it, a beagle isn't too heavy, Luedke said.

The dogs work eight-hour days and live with their handlers.

"They're like family to us," Luedke said. "We treat them like we would any other employee."

Luedke couldn't talk about the Westwood Conference Center specifically, because of client privacy, but said one of the company's dogs could search a three-bedroom home in an hour or less. The larger the facility, the more time or dogs necessary.

'Not a DIY pest'

There's more than one way to kill a bedbug. Chemicals and heat are among the top choices.

Heating a space to over 120 degrees can kill the bugs and egg cases. But other methods include vacuuming, freezing and steaming. Eradication often requires more than one treatment.

"This is not a do-it-yourself pest," said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. "The bedbugs are very elusive. They don't like to be seen. They're generally nocturnal. They can live for months without eating."

Grosskurth also cautioned against DIY treatments. Misusing chemicals to address a problem without professionals can lead to hazards in the home.

While unnerving and occasionally itchy, the bugs do not indicate a lack of cleanliness or sanitation, Grosskurth said. They pop up sporadically around the county, he said, but they're not common.

The bugs were nearly eradicated in the 1940s and '50s, Henriksen said. They've come back over the past several years.

"Nobody really understands exactly why (bedbugs are back)," she said. "A lot of times people point to a change in chemicals or a change in international travel."