Kennett Business Targets Bed Bugs

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011

Most dogs get their food at will, from a bowl in the house.

Casey, a 14-month purebred rescued beagle, must get hers the old-fashioned way.

She has to earn it.

Casey is trained to detect bedbugs. She goes through runs several times a day, on the prowl for live bedbugs, which are put in small vials with a screen mesh at top. When she finds them, she gets fed. It's the only way she can get food in her mouth.

Casey is the star of Key K-9, a new Kennett-area business that features the detection of bedbugs. And Casey's mighty accurate. On average, she can find bedbugs more than 90 percent of the time. Human visual inspection for a low-level infestation of bed- bugs is no better than 30 percent.

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Monica DeLucia started the business two months ago after she was laid off at her job in the produce industry. Instead of looking forward to collecting unemployment checks, DeLucia took matters into her own hands and decided to start a new — if not unusual — business.

"I always wanted to own my own business," DeLucia said. "When my position was eliminated, I thought this was my chance. I had been researching and reading about it, and when layoffs came, this accelerated my plans."

So while at a trade show for hotels and motels in Florida, DeLucia came across dog handlers, got Casey and started her training. Casey eventually became certified with the national Entomology Scent Detection K-9 Association, a national independent firm that certifies the highest quality of standards for scent detection dogs.

DeLucia came back to Chester County and began going around to hotels and pest control companies. Her first job was a success.

"We inspected 30 hotel rooms and she found them," DeLucia said. "It was on an ottoman."

Because of the stigma attached with bedbugs, DeLucia will not reveal the hotels and nursing homes that have them.

But they are in Chester County, and even though DeLucia's business doesn't eradicate them, Casey can determine with great accuracy if they are present.

"It's possible for people who do a lot of business travel to bring them home because bedbugs are hitchhikers," DeLucia said. "It has nothing to do with your hygiene, and nothing to do with how clean you keep your house. It has to do with where you go."

And once they get in the house, hotel or nursing home, they multiply. And they multiply quickly.

Bedbugs are relatively harmless to humans, but can cause a number of health effects, especially skin rashes. Bedbugs, which are nocturnal, can survive a year without food — namely, human blood — and they will go on the crawl for it if you switch beds.

Bedbugs were largely eradicated as pests in the early 1940s, however they have increased in prevalence in the past decade. The reason for their resurgence is unclear, but some experts said it's due to to greater foreign travel, more frequent exchange of second-hand furnishings among homes, and a greater focus on control of other pests. There was an epidemic of them in New York lately, with confirmed infestations at AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, Niketown Store on 57th Street (which was shuttered after bed bugs were discovered there), Bloomingdale's, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and even the headquarters of Google.

DeLucia said the concern about the bedbug's comeback is generating local inquiries. Though she focuses on corporate clients, she will inspect private residences for $200. She said many people prefer the peace of mind following an inspection.

But if an inspection reveals the insects, there are several methods to eradicate them from the building. Pesticides is an option, but a preferred way is to heat them out. At 120 degrees, adults, nymphs, and, importantly, eggs are cooked in a matter of minutes.

Beagles are perfect for the job. They have high energy and a high food drive. "Some beagles don't make the best pets because of that, but she's a wrecking ball when she's not working," DeLucia said.

DeLucia said Casey doesn't mind only getting fed when she finds live bedbugs. When she finds them, she goes into a frenzy and scratches at the source.

"She will sniff faster and her body will tense when on a scent," DeLucia said. "She's pretty good at it."