NAME: Eckhard Mueller
TITLE: Pest-control technician and certified canine handler in bedbug detection. Works with April.
BEDBUG MYTHS: They spread disease and are found only in seedy places.
BEDBUG TRUTHS: “Bedbugs don’t eat anything but human blood. We are all targets.”
APRIL’S STATS: 90%–98% accuracy, depending on cleanliness of site
APRIL’S SHORTCOMINGS: “She burps—sometimes on the job.”
In case you haven’t heard: Bedbugs are back. Once all but eliminated by the pesticide DDT, the harmless but itch-producing biters have returned with a vengeance. As a pest-control technician at Tacoma-based Sprague Pest Solutions, Eckhard Mueller first started getting bedbug calls in 2003. They seemed the stuff of urban legend—until he found actual infestations. Since then, Seattle’s bedbug population has skyrocketed and two and a half years ago Sprague added an employee with a real nose for the job: April, the Northwest’s first bedbug inspection dog. April now works full time with Mueller (she lives with him, too), sniffing out creepy crawlies all week long so area residents can sleep tight.
SM: What is April’s training regimen?
EM: The training isn’t any different than other scent-detection dog training. She only gets food when she works or trains—food is the reward for finding the bugs. We train for 30 or 40 minutes at home in the morning [to earn breakfast], then we go to work. When we get home at night, depending on how much she worked [and ate] during the day, we do the same thing again [before dinner]. It’s literally an ongoing training.
SM: How big is the increase in calls?
EM: At the time we got April, we had about four accounts per month where we’d do dog inspections; now, it’s full-time dog inspections, Monday through Friday, six to eight hours a day. Especially in Seattle, people are more vocal about bedbugs. The reason we got May [a new bedbug-sniffing dog currently in training] was because the Seattle area was getting busier by the week.
SM: Where does April tend to find bedbugs?
EM: Anywhere there are lots of people. We’ve seen them in office buildings, where people have brought them in on their clothes or belongings. They get in the upholstery of office chairs, then a person sits in the chair, the bugs crawl up their back, down their pants and bite. Usually you will find bedbugs close to their food source: humans.
SM: How can we safeguard against bedbugs?
EM: When you travel, inspect the hotel room for bedbugs: live ones, dead ones or even blood spots. Pull back blankets; look at the mattress corners and dust ruffles. If you think you’ve been exposed to bedbugs, when you get home from a trip, go to the garage, strip down and throw everything in the washer and dryer. Same goes for your luggage. Also, you can buy special mattress covers that keep bedbugs out, so if you get an infestation they will not get to the mattress.
SM: What does April do to relax?
EM: She hangs out with the other dogs at home, Jackson and Stella. They fight over chew toys. She loves to take a sunbath on the back deck. She knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time for fun.
Originally published in July 2010