Look­ing out for No. 2: Dogs sniff out fe­cal pol­lu­tion

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION + WORLD - By Wayne Parry

Some spe­cially trained dogs are help­ing hu­mans curb them­selves.

A com­pany that has trained dogs to rec­og­nize the smell of hu­man fe­cal bac­te­ria has been sniff­ing out sources of wa­ter pol­lu­tion na­tion­wide, dis­cov­er­ing bro­ken sewer pipes, leak­ing sep­tic tanks and il­le­gal sewage dis­charges, to the de­light of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and govern­ment agen­cies.

Con­ven­tional wa­ter sam­pling tests take 24 hours at a lab­o­ra­tory, and of­ten must be du­pli­cated to en­sure their ac­cu­racy. Test­ing of sewer sys­tems with dye or smoke takes days and is costly. But the dogs give an in­stant yes-or-no in­di­ca­tion as to whether a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion is con­tam­i­nated with the bac­te­ria.

Us­ing dogs res­cued from shel­ters and spe­cially trained to de­tect hu­man waste in the same way other dogs are trained to sniff out drugs or ex­plo­sives, the dogs of Ot­is­field, Maine-based En­vi­ron­men­tal Ca­nine Ser­vices are al­ways look­ing out for No. 2.

“I could make a lot of jokes about what kind of job this is, but I won’t,” said Scott Reynolds, who runs the com­pany with his wife, Karen. “They alert us to the pres­ence of hu­man-spe­cific bac­te­ria, E. coli, poop, what­ever you want to call it.”

Hu­man fe­cal con­tam­i­na­tion is a se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem that can cause ill­nesses in­clud­ing in­testi­nal prob­lems; hep­ati­tis; res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions; and ear, nose, and throat prob­lems. Con­tam­i­na­tion from the E. coli bac­terium, nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in hu­man in­testines, be­comes dan­ger­ous if it is present in the en­vi­ron­ment in high enough con­cen­tra­tions. It is the lead­ing cause of beach and wa­ter­way clo­sures in the U.S., and track­ing down the source of such pol­lu­tion is a high pri­or­ity for lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments.

One re­cent day, two of the com­pany’s dogs sniffed the edges of a pond near the New Jer­sey shore in Fair Haven, where pol­luted runoff was help­ing to choke the pond with thick al­gae that cov­ered it with a green scum. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups in­clud­ing Clean Ocean Ac­tion, along with the lo­cal govern­ment, hired the com­pany to de­ter­mine whether any sewage was making its way into the pond, which feeds into the nearby Navesink River, a wa­ter­way hav­ing its own prob­lems with bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion.

Sable, a 10-year-old Ger­man shep­herd-husky mix Reynolds res­cued from a shel­ter, and Remi, a 3-yearold black Lab mix they found as a stray, were put to work. They sniffed the shore­line and found noth­ing amiss.

“Just as im­por­tant as what you find is what you don’t find,” Karen Reynolds said.

The cou­ple then took the dogs to a nearby man­hole, which town work­ers had opened, to demon­strate what the dogs do when they smell hu­man waste. Sable is trained to bark when he smells it; Remi is trained to sit still, and that’s pre­cisely what they did as soon as they sniffed the man­hole.

Their re­wards: a treat for Remi and some play time with a ten­nis ball for Sable.


Remi, a dog trained to sniff out sources of wa­ter pol­lu­tion, with han­dler Karen Reynolds, sniffs a stormwa­ter drain pipe in South Port­land, Maine on Oct. 11.

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