By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — A city housing agency is looking for a few good dogs to sniff out the scourge of bedbugs at buildings citywide.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development put out a request for information Wednesday to find two bedbug-detection dogs to help the agency's efforts to combat the critters at thousands of properties across the city.
HPD's current bedbug enforcement procedures — which include inspections, with violations issued to landlords when necessary — would be bolstered by the keen-nosed canines, whose abilities to detect bedbugs early can keep them from spreading throughout entire buildings.
A 2008 University of Florida study found bedbug-detecting dogs to be up to 98-percent accurate in sniffing out the insects and their eggs, making them one of the most effective options for locating the bloodsucking pests.
The recent discovery of bedbugs at such Manhattan landmarks such as the swanky Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Empire State Building, as well as big-name retailers such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's, had only increased the call for preventative measures, said Frank Alaimo, co-owner of the Queens-based NY Bed Bug Dogs.
He explained that the specialty pooches needed to undergo 800 hours of training to become certified, and that smaller breeds such as beagles were more effective working in cramped Manhattan apartments.
"In the beginning the calls were much more like, 'Wow, a dog can do that?'" Alaimo said of the inquiries he fielded after his service started two-and-a-half years ago. "It's the same thing as a drug-detection or a bomb-sniffing dog."
An agency spokesman said HPD needed to craft an inspection program incorporating the dogs — it currently responded to bedbugs based on 311 complaints — but that the canines wouldn't necessarily be used in all cases. The agency was still months away from actually acquiring the dogs, the spokesman noted.
Regardless, the dogs should come in handy as bedbug complaints continue to rise across the city — due in part to New Yorkers not waiting until they get bitten to address the problem, Alaimo explained.
"I think the proactivity of more unlikely candidates is going to make it a more viable option for people," he said.
While HPD acknowledged that some tenants might not want dogs entering their apartments, the pooches might represent the best line of defense against bedbugs.
"People are more apt to trust a dog than they are to trust a human being," Alaimo added.