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Don't bug me


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POSTED: Friday, October 23, 2009

Scout and Ally are beagles with a single-minded focus: sniffing out bedbugs.

Both Scout and Ally, certified with the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association, belong to Pearl City-based Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions.

Sandwich Isle, a full-service pest management company, is specializing in the growing niche of bedbugs. It claims to be the first in Hawaii to use beagles and heat technology.

“;When I first started the company in 1997, we didn't have a single bedbug call,”; said Michael Botha, president and owner of Sandwich Isle. “;Now we may get five to 10 calls in a day. We identified that the market needed a better solution, and we decided we would be the company to provide that solution,”;

Botha says he's invested at least $250,000 in technology and equipment to battle the bedbug, which he says is a growing problem across the United States.

At the same time, the company is getting 15 to 25 new bedbug clients per week.

Clients include mostly hotels and homeowners, but also bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, hospitals and movie theaters. Botha says more hotels are taking a proactive approach by doing regular inspections of their rooms.

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The beagles are trained to detect one scent only—that of live bedbugs and eggs—whether they're hidden in mattresses, the weave of a wicker chair, inside a baseboard or the pages of a library book.

“;We know that unless you can identify bedbugs, you can't solve a problem,”; he said. “;If we can identify them successfully, we can eradicate successfully.”;

Bedbugs, straw-colored bugs the size of an apple seed, feed off warm-blooded hosts and can spread quickly from a book to a bed, or from a beach bag to a seat cushion to a person.

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Travelers can unknowingly transport bedbugs from a suitcase to a hotel bed. The oval-shaped, wingless insects reproduce rapidly.

Usually the beagles work a property from left to right, and if they detect a bedbug, they signal by scratching. The beagles, trained at the J&K Canine Academy in Florida, can sniff out the scent of a bedbug in about 90 seconds, with 97 percent accuracy.

Once detected, Botha said, it's a good idea to act quickly.

Scout, a 2-year-old lemon beagle, has been working in Hawaii since April, and Ally, a 1-year-old tricolor beagle, just arrived last week.

Sandwich Isle has three handlers who work with the certified canines, in addition to a staff entomologist, Victoria Fickle, who just joined the company.

For treatment, Sandwich Isle offers ThermaPureHeat, a new heat-based technology approved in August by the Hawaii Pest Control Board. ThermaPureHeat kills the bedbugs and their eggs with penetrating heat instead of chemicals.

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The canines return after treatment for a post-inspection.

Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions, which Botha founded in 1997 with $10,000 from savings after years of working in the industry, has since grown to serve all major isles with a staff of more than 50.