In the age-old fight against bedbugs, the dog is our newest best friend, say the owners of a Sevierville-based pest detection company.
Dog Inspectors use trained, certified detection dogs to literally sniff out bedbug infestations in homes, businesses and public buildings. Dog Inspectors can save the customer money by quickly pinpointing the source of an infestation so that only a part of a house or building will need to be treated, said Chuck Nelson, co-owner.
“It costs about $6,000-$8,0000 to treat a house and usually about $500 to $1,000 to treat one room,” he said.
Nelson emphasizes that Dog Inspectors is not a pest control company. If bedbugs are found, the customer must arrange for pest control service.
This keeps the business focused on one area of expertise and avoids the conflict of interest in a company detecting a problem and then selling customers the solution to it, he said.
The usual inspection is done visually by a human and involves moving things and taking things apart, Nelson said. A dog inspection doesn’t need to be so intrusive — dogs can detect odors through walls.
Dog Inspectors uses teams of a handler and two dogs to examine a structure and mark areas of infestation.
Nelson and his wife, Diana Sosa, who has 25 years experience in dog training, started the company in Franklin, Tenn., in 2008.
Sosa is from Puerto Rico, where her family has run K-9 Sentinel Dogs for years. She holds numerous certifications in dog obedience, canine detection, canine odor imprintation, and others. Nelson was an executive with the Word Entertainment Christian music company in Nashville, but left the industry and was looking for a new career when his wife got the idea for Dog Inspectors.
“A friend showed me an article in The Wall Street Journal about Radar, this beagle that someone had trained to detect bedbugs and they had started a business with him. I thought, I could do that,” she said.
Training a dog to detect bedbugs is not that much different from training a dog to detect drugs or anything else, Sosa said. But one unsavory aspect of this is that the couple had to keep live bedbugs in containers for training purposes, and bedbugs feed on human blood.
“We would have to let them feed off ourselves,” Nelson said, pointing to his arms.
Most people bitten are hardly aware, but about 30 percent are allergic to the bites and might develop a rash or welts, he said.
Other methods have been developed for feeding bedbugs now, so this is no longer necessary. Nelson says there was an advantage being bitten, though.
“It helped us to empathize with our customers,” Sosa said. “We literally know what it is like to be bitten by these things.”
The couple started in Franklin, but soon found most of their growth was in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area.
“It got to where our entire week would be spent here and we would just go back to Franklin for the weekends,” Nelson said.
The couple found they had to market their services carefully. While Dog Inspectors responds to cases of bedbug infestation, the company approaches businesses with the idea of regular inspections as a way to help avoid infestations.
Most Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg businesses don’t want to advertise that they are having a bedbug inspection done, but see the value in being proactive, he said.
“They realize they depend on tourism and how important it is for their guests to not have a bad experience,” Nelson said.
This article was originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel.