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Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

Before I could sleep tight, I had to learn more about these invading pests than I ever wanted to know

When scent dog Dixie sniffs out bedbugs, she sits at attention.

Editor’s note: This story is true. The author goes nameless to protect the innocent.

I scooped the two yellow bugs into a glass jar and tightened the lid. What were these little critters crawling along the seam of my mattress? I’d found a yellow bug like this on my bed once before and didn’t think much about it. But now I had three. Something was going on.
    I feared the worst: bedbugs.
    But these creatures didn’t look at all like the pictures of bedbugs I’d seen on the Internet.

My Fears Confirmed

    Since I heard the first rumors about the return of the pests five years ago, I have taken extreme precautions. I never bring my suitcase into a hotel room. I leave it on the linoleum at the entrance to the room or on the tile floor in the bathroom.
    Back home, I park my suitcase in the entrance to the house from the garage and take every item of clothing, whether I’ve worn it or not, straight to the laundry room to be washed in hot water.
    How could I possibly have bedbugs?
    I remembered having three bites in a row on my shoulder a year ago, but it was summer and mosquito season, so again I paid no attention. Now, in the midst of winter, I wondered if bedbugs had been making a home in my mattress all that time.
    I called for help.
    Before Dennis Reiman of Western Pest Services arrived two days later, I found another bug, very different from the first two. This one looked like a dark sesame seed … until I turned it over and saw legs and a head. I added it to my bug jar.
    Reiman took an interest in my insect collection. The two yellow bugs might be bedbug nymphs, he told me, pulling up the mattress and finding another yellow bug.
    The small dark one was definitely a bedbug.
    “I wish I could say you had termites. They’re easier to get rid of,” Reiman said. “I’d rather have alligators in my living room than bedbugs.”

Early American Invasives

    Sailing ships brought bedbugs to the New World from Europe. Infestations were so severe that some captains refused to allow passengers to bring bedding aboard their ships. In the early 20th century, bedbugs were one of the top three indoor pests.
    But in the 1950s, DDT conquered bedbugs in developed countries, virtually eradicating them from homes and hotels.
    Now they’re back.
    Increased international travel has aided their return. So has the banning of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides, which proved such a double-edged sword. Also helping them colonize our homes may be used furniture and clothing and even books from consignment shops, yard sales and antique shops. I suspect mine rode in on old books that I kept by my bed.
    Bedbugs are rampant in nursing homes, homeless shelters and emergency rooms. They have been found in movie theaters and libraries. They are hitchhikers and like to crawl into purses, onto coats and shoes.
    “Bedbugs don’t know whether they’re in a Motel 6 or a Ritz Carlton,” Reiman said.

Dixie the Bedbug Detective

    Faced with bedbugs, Reiman called in the experts to track the bugs to their lair.
    Two weeks later, Blaine Lessard, who works with Western and owns BAD Dog Kennels and American Canine Scent Detection in Welcome, Maryland, arrived with Dixie, a four-year-old beagle/Jack Russell terrier mix. Teaching dog obedience was Lessard’s hobby for 25 years. When the recession forced him to close down his office products business, he found a new calling in training scent dogs.

Blaine Lessard and his scent dog Dixie.

    Dixie, adopted from a shelter, attended the Florida Canine Academy in Tampa. After 800 hours of full-time training, she became the 12th dog in the nation certified to detect bedbugs. Scent dogs are 98 percent effective in finding the bugs while the human success rate is 50 percent. Dixie learned 20 different commands and trained in cars, boats and theaters, as well as homes and hotels. She can cover 120 rooms in one day.
    Commanded by Lessard to Seek, Dixie began her search and sniff of my Annapolis area home. The living room checked out; no bedbugs. So did the basement.
    But in the bedroom, the frisky little dog sat at attention at the head of the bed. She had found her quarry.
    “Show me,” Lessard instructed, and Dixie nudged the mattress. She also picked up the scent at the dresser and a cabinet.

Plan of Attack

    With the bugs confined to one side of my bedroom, I needed to prep only one room for fumigation. Mattress and box spring were removed and the bed was dismantled. Drawers came out of the dresser and cabinet. Switch plates were taken off. The carpet was vacuumed and the bag tied up in plastic before it was stuffed in the trashcan outside my house.
    The passive voice is misleading. I was forced by the bedbugs to do all these unwelcome chores.
    The closet full of clothes was not infested, but all the clothes had to be removed from the room, along with shoes and boxes and all the other flotsam that winds up in a closet. All clothes were washed in hot water and spent two hours in the dryer. My cats had to be boarded at the vet on the day of fumigation.
    All that for one room. I don’t ever want to know what it would be like to have an entire house infested.
    Patrick Love, a bedbug specialist with Western, did the fumigation. The first two bugs I found he identified as carpet beetles. “When I find bedbugs, I usually find carpet beetles, too,” he told me.
    Love treated the room with three chemicals that combine to form a powerful insecticide with disinfectant.

Know Your Enemy

    Bedbugs look like tiny, reddish-brown, flat seeds. Young nymphs are smaller and lighter. Adult bedbugs lay hundreds of eggs during their lifetime. The insects are nocturnal; in the dark, they come out of hiding to suck your blood. Pets are a last resort: bedbugs don’t care for fur or hair. But they find you quite tasty.
    Three bites in a row is a telltale sign. They may itch, and they may rise into red welts. People react differently, and some may not know they’ve been bitten. Bedbugs don’t carry disease, but scratching their bites can result in infection.
    If you suspect an infestation or are checking out a hotel room, use a flashlight to inspect seams and crevices in furniture, closets and baseboards, along the edges of carpeting and behind wall hangings and light switches. Look for bugs, dead and alive, eggs and small blood stains.
    Bedbugs hide in clutter, so organize, clean and get rid of anything you don’t need. Cover mattresses, box springs, and pillows with treated encasements.
    An infestation does not mean you’re a bad housekeeper. They would just as soon live with neat freak Felix Unger as with his sloppy roommate Oscar Madison.
    They are not particular: They just want a free meal.
    Tomorrow is the second fumigation treatment. Often there is a third. But as Dixie found the scent in only one small area, I hope this will be it.