Dogs Who Hunt Bedbugs: The Nose Knows ... Most of the Time

Pest control companies now using specially trained dogs to sniff out bedbugs.

Nov. 12, 2010— -- From the swankiest hotels to the dingiest motels, from luxury high-rise condos to dilapidated, multi-family homes, from schools to theaters to clothing stores, the infestation of creepy, crawly bedbugs continues to plague cities across the country.

In some, the bedbug problem is reaching epidemic proportions. Calls to exterminating companies are said to be up at least 50 percent from last year.

This week, entomologists and other bug experts descended on New York City to look for solutions. New York is considered by some health experts to be the epicenter of the infestation. But all across the country, four-legged experts of a different kind have been hard at work trying to sniff out the tiny, repugnant, creatures.

Take Roscoe, for example. He is a lemon beagle who tracks down bedbugs in the New York area and has become something of a celebrity. He even has his own Facebook page where he tells us, "This past July, I appeared on Animal Planet. I am in 3 TV-commercials that run in the NY Metro area." Roscoe has also appeared on TV talk shows to show off his talent.

Rescued from a Florida dog pound, Roscoe was trained at the Florida Canine Academy to hunt down bedbugs, and now works for a pest control company in New Jersey. With his human handler, Peter Mattiace, close by, Roscoe sniffs everything in his target area; beds, chairs, dressers, clothing, carpets and any place a bedbug might call home. He can smell them with that hyper-sensitive nose beagles have. When he does, Roscoe gives a healthy snort as if to clear his snout, sits down and repeatedly points his nose at the offending area.

Cost of Hiring a Pooch Nothing to Sneeze At

Mattiace tells ABC News it is like a game of hide-and-seek for the pooch. "He has fun doing it," the handler says, "and he's highly effective." Bedbugs are such an issue now, dogs that can do what Roscoe does are in high demand and can cost in excess of $10,000.

Not that the bedbug-hunting dogs are infallible. There have been reported complaints of false positives with some dogs indicating bugs where there are none. Animal experts say there could be many reasons for that, not the least of which is that some canines are so eager to please their human partners they will sometimes behave in a manner that results in a positive response from that human.

Most of the time, however, the nose knows. And many people believe any bark of a bedbug dog is far better than a bedbug's bite.