By Anne Stanton 9/21/09
Not unlike humans, dogs need a purpose driven life. So concludes Jim Rutherford, a Manistee dog trainer and pest inspector, who believesafter five years of working with animalsthat dogs and humans have a lot in common.
The life purpose of his dogs? To sniff out pests.
Jack, a.ka. the Chubby Checker, is a certified bed bug canine detector. His beloved dog, Zeus, a yellow lab, is certified to sniff out termites and carpenter ants, but had to take an early retirement due to illness. B.B. King, a chocolate lab, is learning the bed bug business slowly, but with enthusiasm. And Walter the Wonder Dog, is a really quick study. Hes getting trained to help a New York City exterminator stamp out bed bugs.
Rutherford is the president of Action Termite & Pest Control and the Action Canine Institute. His business is situated on a little dirt road south of Manistee, but hell soon move to Freesoil a mile away, where he plans to relocate his offices and open a dog park. He envisions it as a place where folks can take their pets for agility training or a walk during winter.
Rutherford, whose first love was golf, came into pests and dog training by accident, or fortune, depending on how you look at it.
Spend an afternoon with him, and hell intrigue you with his discussions of the countrys growing plague of bed bugs and the sheer fun of using dogs to hunt them.
Rutherford got into the pest control business in 1989 when he was struggling with what to do with his life. He had served six years with the Navy and wanted to become a golf pro. Instead, he was toiling away as an assistant club pro in the prestigious Doral golf resort in Florida, folding shorts and giving lessons.
After one such day, he gave his dad a call and asked him if he had a job with his pest control business, which he had started three years prior. He said, Sure I do. Come on back home.
WE NEED A DOG
Fast forward to November of 2004. Rutherford was attending a pest convention in Hawaii. They had an exhibit hall, and there was this guy showing termite dogs. I was absolutely amazed. A dog can sniff out a termite, holy smokes. I was always looking for a better way to do an inspection. On the flight home, I told my wife, We need to have a dog.
But there was one issue. Rutherford had been terrified of dogs ever since he was bit as a small boy. So he thought he could use Jason Sullivan, a trusted employee, as the official dog handler so hed never have to get near the beasts.
The price of a pest sniffing dog was steepa total of $8,500 for the dog, medications, supplies, and owner training, not to mention another $1,500 for hotel and travel to Florida, where the dog was located.
It was a big investment for a small company. But at the time, Id been working for 16 years, and was getting burned out on killing bugs.
We arrived in Clearwater and knocked on the gate, and the trainer said come on in. There are 40 dogs running around the area. There was no way I was walking in there. I told him, Im afraid of dogs. But the guy literally dragged me in there kicking and screaming. All the dogs surrounded me and nothing happened. The trainer told me later that when you transfer your fear, the dogs react to it as negative energy.
You bring it on yourself. So I spent the week there working with all sorts of dogs. By the end of the week, I would go in, grab a strange dog, put him on a leash and take him for a walk. I was amazed Id gotten over the fear.
Their first dog was Elvis Pest Lee, a black and tan hound that was trained to sniff out termites and carpenter ants. Unlike law enforcement dogs that paw and tear to get at the scent of drugs, pest-sniffing dogs are trained to give a passive alert of sitting down, which is much easier on luxury curtains.
Elvis was good at detecting scents, but he had a problem of pawing at the scent instead of sitting down. Rutherford called the trainer to figure out how to correct him.
I couldnt get a hold of this guy. Prior to me giving him the $10,000, hed call me right back. I thought, Im going to look into becoming a dog trainer, and then I can train as many dogs as I want. If it cost me $6,000, thats the equivalent of buying a dog. It just made more sense to me.
Rutherford first learned how to teach dogs basic obedience. Over the following several years, he read every book and watched every DVD he could lay his hands on. He has watched the videos of Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer over and over again.
Hes incredible! I dont know 1/90 of what he knows.
The essence of training is to control a dogs energy and put it to good use. Rutherford demonstrated his training technique with Walter, a highly energetic beagle and pug mix.
He took Walter to a circle of little pots in his training room. When Walter pawed at the correct pot, Rutherford yelled out, Good boy! Good boy! and gave him a stuffed pheasant toy. The next step: Walter had to sit down after sniffing the right pot. Walter hesitated and as soon as his rear-end touched the ground, Rutherford exploded with praise. The dog has to somehow figure out what it has to do to get the reward. Its kind of like letting a friend drive a new route to learn it, rather than trying to learn by watching you drive there, Rutherford explained.
Everything I do with a dog is positive reinforcement. Im a firm believer that if you are patient enough, a dog will teach itself. It will figure out what you want. Most dogs, if you have a relationship with them, they want to please you. Thats the beautiful thing about dogs. The dog says, You feed me, you play with me, you must be God.
A cat says, You feed me, you play with me, I must be God.
The last phase of Walters training will be in New York City, on the job site with the owner.
PERFECT PEST DOG
Rutherford said a perfect pest dog is the type that a lot of people find annoying. High strung with boundless energythese dogs have to work four to five hours a day, 320 days a yearand are eager to please. The dog also has to be maniacal about getting bites of food or toys.
Zeus, a white lab, fit the bill, and was trained to detect carpenter ants and termites. Next came Jack, his only dog trained to sniff out bed bugs (dogs have a bug specialty so the trainer knows which bug the dog is actually detecting.)
Rutherford found Jack at a local animal shelter, Homeward Bound, which has a no-kill policy. Although Labradors generally arent the smartest of the hunting breeds, they are endlessly eager to please. So once they get it, they are hard workers. And Jack got it.
One of our first jobs was a Michigan resort that has in excess of 500 rooms. Before I was using a dog, I would lift the headboard, lift the mattresses, and demolish the room looking for a really tiny bug. It would take half an hour per room or six weeks for the whole job. A dog can sniff a hotel room in 90 seconds flat.
Jack and I went in and we inspected the entire facility within four days. With a visual inspection, you get an accuracy rate of 30%. Jack has a tested accuracy of 94% (based on a test where 30 scents are hidden).
Rutherfords reputation soon spread, and his business began getting phone calls from all over the country, including college campuses. So he bought a huge RV and began traveling.
Next year, Ive got the entire month of August booked to inspect the entire campus of a college in Indiana. Its got 30 dorms, four floors each. When I come back from a trip, I take everything off and put it in a garbage bag before I walk into the house, and then put the clothes in the dryer and crank up the heat. I spray down the suitcase with Bedlam, and then I leave the suitcase outside. My wife is very understanding, but she said the day I bring bed bugs in the house, my life would not be worth living.
Rutherford said his business only inspects for the presence of insects, but does not exterminate them. He considers it a conflict of interest because the hotel owner should get a completely impartial opinion of an infestation.
Luckily for Rutherford, the population of bed bugs is spreading throughout the country, although Northern Michigan has been mostly spared, except for a few hotels in Traverse City, Gaylord, Manistee and Mackinac City.
Rutherford said that sometimes getting rid of the bugs involves more than calling an exterminator. Sometimes it involves replacing all of your furniture. Bed bugswho live on blood mealshide everywhere, including picture frames, pillow cases, and radios.
The bug gets into everything. We did an inspection on a 64,000 square foot telemarketing business with six by six-foot cubicles, with the employees working three shifts, 24 hours a day. Youve got one cubicle and three people over the course of 24 hours.
Person No. 1 has a bed bug issue at home. They take home their briefcase, bring the briefcase to work, and the bed bug climbs out and lays eggs. Person No. 2 comes in, and the bed bug crawls into their pant cuff and they carry the insects into their home. Same goes for Person No. 3. This is how the problem is multiplying.
With a motel, youve got an influx of people coming and and going. Its only a matter of time when the houseguest brings in a bed bug. Housekeeping staff move it. When they grab all the blankets for laundry, they are going down the big hoppers where the bed bugs are, and thats how they get moved from room to room.
Its truly one of the scariest insects going. So much so that the EPA just had a big conference with the National Pest Management Association, along with the FDA and the CDC. They all got together because its blowing out of proportion.
Back in the late 1990s, the EPA banned the use of organophosphates, but is thinking of using these products again. For the EPA to go backwards and consider a hazardous product means the bed bug issue is really, really bad.
The worst cities from top to bottom are Orlando, home of Disney World, New York City, a close second, Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and Cincinnati.
I sold a dog, Beddy the Bedbug Dog to an exterminator in Cincinnati. I expected hed get two or three calls a day while I was training him, but his phone rang 20 to 30 times a day. Schools, fire houses, homesanywhere there was an influx of people.
One way to get rid of them is to use a concoction called IGRinsect growth regulator. It gets into the system of an insect and doesnt allow the outside of their body to shed its outer layer. The bug ends up with a size eight body in a size six shell.
One of the newer methods, which is 100% effective, is heat remediation.
The exterminator will bring a heater into a room and bring the heat of the air, mattress, dresser drawerseverything in the roomup to 135 degrees.
Bed bugs are attracted to heat, so they are initially drawn to the furnace. But when it gets to 100, then they start to turn and run in the opposite direction. When everything in the room reaches a point of 135 degrees for 27 and 28 minutes, all the insects are dead around the unit.
Most insects rely on moisture, so when they dont have moisture, they dry up and die.
Heat remediation, however, is very expensive, requiring thousands of dollars.
JIM AND HIS DOGS
The more time you spend with Rutherford, the more you realize hes a bit like his dogs. His enthusiasm is infectious. He has loads of energy. He gets up early and doesnt sit down again until its bedtime.
Like Jack, his lab, hes a straight-up likeably guy.
And he loves dogs. They dont bother him. B.B. King, the chocolate lab, for example is barking like theres no tomorrow as Rutherford is putting Walter through his training paces.
This is a great distraction for Walter, he enthuses. When he goes on a real job, hes going to deal with a lot more noise than this.
Rutherford keeps his training sessions fairly short, and rewards the dog with funthrowing a tennis ball. A lot of trainers make the mistake of following a training session with a trip to the crate. Theres nothing to look forward to!
Rutherford has clearly started getting into a dogs head. His face sweeps with pain when he quotes the statistic that each day about 10,000 dogs are euthanized in animal shelters. He recalls saving a dog from a Ludington shelter just seconds before a lethal injection.
He readily admits to his passion. When he takes the dogs for a walk, for example, he varies the route every time so it feels like an adventure. He rewards the dog with a bowl of food at the walks end.
He believes that all dogs deserve a master who cares about them and wishes that animal shelters would take greater care in matching up a dogs personality with their new owner.
When you decide on a dog, you have to take an honest look at yourself. Are you the type of person who has a stressful job and likes to pour yourself a cocktail and veg out at the end of day, watch TV and go to bed, or do you get home with a lot of energy to burn off and cant wait to go fishing or hiking? If youre the first type, then you need a small little dog that will sit on your lap. But that kind of dog would just drive me crazy.
Rutherfords brain is constantly working on combining his passion for dog training with making it pay. His latest idea is to teach people how to scent train their dogs.
You could take a vial of anise and put it on your car keys or your TV remote or whatever else you might lose a lot. To train the dog, you drench a cotton swab with the scent and hide it around the house. We did it with Zeus because my wife is always losing her keys. One day, we looked everywhere, and Zeus found them in the freezer where shed accidentally dropped them loading in some food.
Rutherford said that working with dogs has taught him a lot and made him a better person.
I used to be one of those guys who was a yeller. If my son wasnt doing what I wanted him to do, Id yell. Well, dogs wont respond to you if you do that. Youve gotta be calm and talk in a way that doesnt cause fear. So its changed me. My dogs have made me a mellower, more stable individual.
Now I get a lot better response with my son. Hes 15, and a high school sophomore. I remember when he was in eighth or ninth grade, and when he wouldnt do his homework, I grounded him, I yelled at him, everything but beat him over the head. His response was always the same, Okay dad, but he never followed through.
What I learned was, when youre yelling, youre out of control. Youre not thinking 100% rationally. When Im calmer with him, Im able to see, to notice that he looks depressed. Whats wrong buddy? I broke up with my girlfriend. So I can talk with him, tell him if something comes up, Ill help him with homework, and help him get caught up so he doesnt get behind. So now dad is helping out, and he responds better. We have a much, much better relationship.