PEPPERELL — Wondering who you’re gonna call if you fear that pests are in your bedding?
Spice. She can let you know if bedbugs have made your home their own.
The 2-year-old Belgian malinois, border collie, Staffordshire bull terrier mix is highly skilled.
“She is my certified bedbug dog,” said Kay McDonald, owner of Bed Bug Detection K9s. The little brown dog proved it when she tracked down a vial of the vile creepies in under a minute during a training session.
Not just any bedbug will do. “She’s trained not to indicate on dead bedbugs,” McDonald said.
Spice is just one of the team. Two search and rescue dogs and a retired dog athlete make up the pack.
Rio, a 7-year-old border collie, finds missing people. He recently passed an advanced 160-acre certification test, finding the hidden person in just three hours.
Poppy, who was bred for flyball, is the cadaver dog. The 5-year-old border collie/Staffordshire bull terrier “does missing people, fresh bodies and century-old cold cases as well,” McDonald said.
McDonald volunteers her time and dogs to assist local and regional police with searches and with training.
The vice president and canine training director at Massachusetts Rescue and Recovery K9 Unit has been training dogs for 20 years. She holds more search and rescue certifications than Rio and Poppy combined.
It is important to keep the dog up on its training, she said. It takes about 16 hours a month to ensure the dog’s skills remain top-notch.
Experienced handlers are able to do this training themselves, but she said it is valuable to train with others.
All of the training is put to the test when the dogs are called out.
During a missing person search, she and her dog have an assigned area and other teams work nearby. Sometimes the outcome is good, sometimes it is not.
One night, just as it got too dark to see and the search was called off, her cadaver dog “took right off into the swamp and started working the area like crazy,” McDonald said. The next morning, the state police found the deceased person.
Spec, a 13-year-old border collie/Jack Russell mix, is her retired flyball dog, a whizz at the dog agility sport. The little guy is getting gray but is no slacker when it is time to line up with the younger dogs for a cookie.
“I wanted to do something more meaningful,” said McDonald of her switch from dog sports to search and rescue seven years ago. “I decided to do something with just me and the dog.”
She looks for dogs with a high prey drive and a go-get-it attitude. That drive means they are a little rambunctious, she said.
When they are not on the job, the dogs keep themselves busy. McDonald suggested a visitor not wear nylons to meet the crew. The conversation was punctuated by a dog looking to sit on a lap while the grind of chewing came from another room.
Sometimes a treat gets stuck under a cabinet. Someone will look at it until McDonald swipes the goodie clear, using a long kitchen utensil.
A dog’s job is never done. After an interview, McDonald and Spice were heading out for a second visit to a customer.
Spice found live bedbugs during an earlier visit. She needed to patrol the area to make sure all the bugs were dead after the exterminator’s work was complete.
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