Haines resident Carrie Kinison, owner of  bedbug detection service Auggie Doggie, stands with her dog Harvey as he eats a snack. Kinison has spent years training Harvey to sniff out bedbugs.

Haines resident Carrie Kinison, owner of bedbug detection service Auggie Doggie, stands with her dog Harvey as he eats a snack. Kinison has spent years training Harvey to sniff out bedbugs.

Man’s best friend, bedbugs’ worst enemy

Four years ago, while staying in a hotel in Anchorage, Haines resident Carrie Kinison woke up to a nasty surprise. She was covered in painful red welts — each about the size of a dime — extending from her neck to her stomach.

“That’s when I discovered bedbugs,” she said. “I got bit pretty bad, and that horrified me.”

Now, with the help of her 4-year-old bedbug-sniffing rat terrier named Harvey, Kinison is trying to make sure other Southeast Alaskans don’t have to wake up welt-covered. But building her bedbug detection business, Auggie Doggie, hasn’t been easy.

Shortly after returning from Anchorage, still spotted with bug bites, Kinison decided to start training one of the seven dogs she lives with on her Haines ranch to detect bedbugs. The training process, she said, is no different than that of a bomb dog or drug dog. It just takes a lot of practice and a lot of time.

“It takes about 2,00 hours of training time before they get that drive to hunt bedbugs,” Kinison said. “If someone tells you it takes less time, they’re wrong. You have to throw every experience at them.”

Though Kinison said she has “never had a better co-worker” than Harvey, he wasn’t her first choice for bedbug detection. When she started her business, it was Harvey’s older half brother Auggie — the business’ namesake — that was going to be the bedbug hound.

Only months after Kinison began training Auggie, whom she said had a “natural talent” for sniffing out bed bugs, he was killed by a pair of wolves on her ranch a couple miles from the Canadian border.

Kinison was out for a walk with Harvey, Auggie and her five other dogs, including Harvey’s parents, when they came upon a pack of hunting wolves. The wolves went after 4-month-old Harvey, but when Auggie came to his rescue, the wolves killed him instead.

“They got out of my sight, so thank goodness I couldn’t actually see the attack, but I heard it,” Kinison said, holding back tears. “All of the dogs came running back to me except Auggie. He was protecting Harvey; he gave his life for Harvey.”

Devastated by the loss of Auggie, Kinison wasn’t sure if she was going to start training another dog until a couple months later she noticed that Harvey showed potential.

“He caught on so quickly, which is unusual,” Kinison said.

Harvey passed the 2,000-hour mark about six months ago, but Kinison hasn’t eased up on his training. It’s crucial, she said, to continuously expose a detection dog of any type to the scents that they’re supposed to sniff out. She even keeps a live bedbug at her home to keep Harvey familiar with the smell.

She also brings him to Talia’s Treasures, a Haines consignment shop, once a week to introduce him to new fabrics and materials, all which could carry bedbugs, to keep his nose sharp.

Tammy Hauser, owner of Talia’s, said that she agreed to allow Harvey to use her consignment shop for regular training because it gives her peace of mind.

“I was open to it because I feel that if I can prevent spreading bedbugs through the items I bring in, I want to,” Tammy told the Empire while Harvey sniffed several old pairs of boots behind her on a low shelf. “My products reach almost everybody, so if I have any questions about any of them, I can have Harvey check them out and ease my mind.”

So far, Harvey hasn’t ever found a bedbug in Talia’s, but that’s not because they couldn’t be there. Adult bedbugs are about the size, shape and color of apple seeds. They cling to, and lay eggs, on different types of fabric. They are hardy creatures that can survive without feasting on human blood, their dietary staple, for months at a time.

Once in an environment where they’re able to thrive, such as a mattress or even in movie theater seats, a bedbug population “can double every 16 days,” according to a 2014 report by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

It’s hard to know the extent of Alaska’s bedbug problem or whether there is a problem at all because people aren’t required to report bedbugs to the health department. This makes them difficult to keep track of, which is why the health department’s latest bedbug statistics are two years old and mostly Anchorage specific.

But Keith Imel, owner of Juneau Glass, said that when it comes to bedbugs, Juneau “has more than you’d think.”

Until about two years ago, Imel and his wife, Nima Perez, ran a business here similar to Auggie Doggie. It was called Bedbug Detectives, and for about five years, Imel and his dauchshund Miss Daisy searched Juneau apartments, restaurants and other businesses for bedbugs.

“We had a lot of work,” Imel said. “She was very effective. In fact, there’s no method that’s more effective than a dog.”

But he retired Miss Daisy a couple years back because he and his wife became too busy with other jobs, and their dog wouldn’t work with any other handler.

Now, Kinison is hoping to pick up business here in Juneau, but she’s struggling because of the stigma surrounding bedbugs.

“You just mention bedbugs, and most people automatically get defensive and don’t want to talk about them,” Kinison said. “I thought it would be different with hotels when I first started. I thought they would embrace me, but they really haven’t. As soon as I say the words, people kinda back up, and their eyes widen.”

She and Harvey have come to Juneau to do some free training work. They were here last fall, and Harvey located bedbugs in several apartments in town, which Kinison didn’t name due to confidentiality agreements.

Imel, who worked here for years, said that the bedbug stigma is real, in part because of the misbelief that bedbugs only afflict the poor or people of bad hygiene, a point Kinison also made.

“The bedbug doesn’t care how much money you make, the color of your skin,” Imel said. “It only cares about the red of your blood.”

Still, Imel doesn’t think that the bedbug stink is insurmountable, so long as Kinison is able to show people what Harvey can do. At this point Kinison recognizes that her business is not sustainable, but she’s hoping to turn that around.

“People just have to know that I’m out there, and they have to reach out,” she said. “Don’t suffer quietly or be ashamed. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. You can talk about bedbugs, and you can certainly talk to me about them.”

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

Harvey, a bedbug detection dog, participates in a training exercise at the Haines Fairgrounds. For this exercise, Harvey must locate a bedbug-scented sheet of paper that his owner placed in one of four identical boxes.

Harvey, a bedbug detection dog, participates in a training exercise at the Haines Fairgrounds. For this exercise, Harvey must locate a bedbug-scented sheet of paper that his owner placed in one of four identical boxes.

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