WATERLOO, Iowa --- Charlie is no bloodhound, but he works like one.

Charlie is a Jack Russell terrier, and he has been trained to sniff out bedbugs.

He cost plenty. But Mike Price, owner of Aable Pest Control in Waterloo, figures Charlie is worth a $7,000 investment.

The pooch, which Price estimates is about 2 years old, recently came out of a six-month training program at Iron Heart High Performance Working Dogs in Kansas City, Mo., which focuses primarily on training dogs for police departments but in the last few years has been turning dogs into bug detectors.

It's a response to a growing problem, Price said.

"It was unheard of five or seven years ago; we pretty much eliminated the bedbug population back in the '50s and '60s when we had more potent insecticides available," Price said.

Price, who has been killing insects professionally since 1969 and founded his own company in 1981, said bedbugs often are difficult to spot.

"If you lift the mattress and see bugs, of course you don't need a dog," he said. "They do congregate together like cockroaches would."

And, sometimes, they don't, he added.

"I found one on the head of a Phillips screwdriver, and I've found one on a clothes hanger," he said. "They can hide just about everywhere."

Bedbugs are found most commonly in hotels and apartment buildings, where people come and go frequently, said Price, who also runs Terminix franchises in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Iowa City.

"They're hitchhikers," he said. "Their only food source is blood."

And, he said, they're becoming more of a problem.

That's why Charlie was brought into the company in March, Price said.

"Let's say it's a 90-room hotel; we'll take a dog in a third of the rooms every month," he said.

Charlie's job is to nose around in every possible hiding place, Price said.

"You've got to turn over mattresses and box springs and turn night stands upside down to look in cracks and things," he said. "A dog can inspect a hotel room in, probably, five minutes."

Charlie's function is more of a preventive measure than anything else, he said.

"People can have bedbugs and not even know it," he said. "They're nocturnal, so people are bit while they're sleeping."

That's when the problems multiply, Price said.

"Once the bug has had a blood meal, it can lay six to eight eggs a night," Price said. "The population can grow pretty fast if they're not detected."

The incidence of bedbugs has increased 500 percent nationally in the last five years, the company says.

"They're more in motel-hotel complexes where you have people coming in and out and, of course, they bring the bedbugs in," Price said.

Local health officials acknowledge the problem appears to be on the increase across the U.S., although not as dramatically in the Cedar Valley.

"New York City has quite a few in hotels, and experts will say the amount of travel we're doing compared to years ago we're just moving these things from one place to another," said Jon McNamee, division manager for environmental health program for the Black Hawk County Health Department. "We're seeing more calls and just about every environmental health conference has reported an increase."

By mid-April, Charlie had gone on no more than three or four calls, Price said.

"Like anything else, it's not 100 percent, of course," he said.

Bug-sniffing dogs are becoming more common among exterminators, Price said.

"It has become pretty prevalent around the country," he said. "Dogs are a big part of bedbug detection now. It took me three months on a waiting list to get the dog."


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