Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Don't let the bed bugs bite

Diamond Marquesa and Buffy can sniff out the bed bugs.

Cathy Palmer breeds and raises Beagles in Cedaredge and more recently has gone into the bed bug detection business as well. After nine months of training, two of her retired show dogs are certified and ready to hunt down the tiny insects — in hotels, apartment complexes, hospitals, or private homes. The business is called Scentsational Hounds.

It's not just beds that can become infected. The Denver Public Library was forced to quarantine the library and destroy some rare books after a patron returned the books infested with bed bugs last fall.

Palmer began training two of her retired Beagles last year after she saw news coverage of the need for bed bug detectors.

“Bed bugs have made a huge resurgence in the U.S. in the past 10 yeas,” Palmer said. She attributes the occurrence to more international travel and a resistance to pesticides.

The bugs “spread mainly through hotels — the bugs come out at night, get into luggage and hijack home,” Palmer said.

In a standard hotel room it'll take a dog two to five minutes to detect the bugs, whereas a human may need an hour to find them, Palmer said.

Palmer's dogs were certified in Florida through the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association. Palmer trains the dogs six days a week, a practice that will continue for their entire lives, she said.

Bed bugs suck human blood and can cause redness and itching, although they spread no known disease, Palmer said. Some people are affected psychologically however with an inability to sleep.

“If hotels get on a quarterly schedule for a sweep, it can catch bugs before it becomes a huge infestation,” Palmer said. They tend to hide in crevasses of mattresses, wall outlets and in luggage, she said.

Scentsational Hounds is a detection company only. A pest control company must be called to eradicate the insects.

Dogs can pinpoint exactly the location of the bugs allowing an exterminator to spray a specific spot.

“It saves on a lot of unnecessary chemical use,” Palmer said.

Several years ago when she was starting her dog and cat boarding business, Happy Tails Pet Lodge, Palmer came to Grand Junction to attend Leading Edge, a comprehensive business course offered at the Business Incubator Center, 2591 B 3/4 Road.

“If it hadn't been for that class I never would have got it up and running,” Palmer said.

The Incubator is a nonprofit organization that offers low-cost business classes and free consulting to new and expanding businesses.

The 12-week intensive Leading Edge program covers topics such as cash flow management, marketing, finance, personnel and legal issues, as well as hands-on assistance in preparing a business plan.

When Palmer set out to expand her business to include Scentsational Hounds, she re-took the Leading Edge course, and received help in writing another business plan.

“It's really helpful. It's got a lot of good resources,” Palmer said. “There are a lot of great speakers,” including bankers, local business people and attorneys.

Palmer and her bug-detecting dogs will travel all over the Western Slope, as well as to Denver and Las Vegas.