Dogs brought in to sniff out presence & source of human bacteria

LACONIA — Rarely if ever do dogs cleanup after their owners, but the roles were reversed at Opechee Cove and Weirs Beach yesterday when "Logan" and "Sable", two mixed breeds trained to identify human sources of bacteria in water, helped an environmental contractor trace the origins of the contamination fouling city beaches.

The dogs, with their trainers and handlers Karen and Scott Reynolds, represent Environmental Canine Services, LLC, headquartered in Vermontville, Michigan. Last year, Planning Director Shanna Saunders and Kevin Dunleavy, director of Parks and Recreation, saw the dogs perform at conference on stormwater management.

When the city contracted with FB Environmental of Portland, Maine to study the problem at the beaches, Saunders and Dunleavy asked for "Logan" and "Sable" to join the team. Although the dogs worked in more than half-a-dozen coastal towns in New Hampshire and Maine last year, this was their first job on a freshwater lake in New England.

"We chose the dogs for their accuracy and cost," Saunders said. Emily DiFranco of FB Environmental explained that in half-a-day the dogs checked several catch basins and outlets at Opechee Cove and another 50 catch basins at The Weirs, a workload that would have otherwise taken two days.

The dogs are trained to the scent of human — and only human — fecal matter. Logan, who has the keener of the two noses, sits and Sable barks when they catch the smell. Instead of having to draw samples at every potential source, the dogs signal only the hot spots. "It's just as important to eliminate areas as to identify them," Scott Reynolds said. "That and the human focus are what makes the dogs cost effective," he said.

DiFranco explained that the alternative is to collect lots of samples, all of which must be tested, not only to determine the bacterial levels but also to distinguish human from animal sources, all of which is time-consuming and very costly.

Scott Reynolds, who first scent trained dogs while with a security firm, recalled that after he became an environmental scientist his firm was tediously inspecting sewer lines and storm drains when his supervisor asked him "can you train dogs to smell poop?" He replied "why not " and in 2007 he and "Sable" went to work. Two years later he and his wife Karen, also a dog trainer, pooled their 35 years of experience into their own firm.
The company operates in Sonoma, California, where five dogs are on the payroll, as well as in Michigan with "Logan" and "Sable" and three dogs in training.

Reynolds said the dogs can work in two ways. Water samples can be collected, placed in buckets and presented to the dogs. At The Weirs, "Logan" and "Sable" demonstrated their prowess at this technique several times. Alternatively, the dogs can track contamination to its source.

For instance, DiFranco recalled that last year the dogs found a beach at Fort Foster in Kittery, Maine laced with fecal bacteria, which seemed to be seeping into the sand. The dogs led them to a marsh, which was also fouled. Beyond the marsh they found two abandoned outhouses, which were promptly removed. This year, when they returned to the beach, the dogs sensed no trace of fecal bacteria. "That was a real success story," Di Franco said.

DiFranco said that the samples taken from the hot spots identified by the dogs yesterday would be tested and the results analyzed in a report to city officials. "We want to prioritize the next steps in addressing the problem," she said.

Dunleavy said that any action by the city will depend on the findings and recommendations of FB Environmental.


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