Dogs sniff out human waste, bacteria along Maine’s coast

Posted Aug. 08, 2012, at 7:10 a.m.

KITTERY, Maine — Two dogs from Environmental Canine Services in Michigan are visiting the area for a week of “bacteria source tracking” throughout coastal Maine and New Hampshire.

The dogs are working to detect human sources of bacteria in water, such as septic system failures, sewage leaks and illicit connections to storm sewer systems.

Sable, a 7-year-old German shepherd mix, and Logan, a 5-year-old rough coat collie, visited Kittery on Tuesday and surveyed portions of Spruce Creek, attempting to sniff out human waste.

The dogs are being hosted by FB Environmental, a consulting firm with locations in Portland and Portsmouth, N.H. The company works with municipalities to identify sources of water contamination and develop environmental management plans for polluted waterways.

Environmental Canine Services is the first — and only — company in the world to train dogs to be able to detect human waste in storm water, according to owners Scott and Karen Reynolds. They are aware of only one other person, a Georgia environmentalist, who is attempting to use the same method to find sources of water contamination.

The couple claims the dogs are nearly as accurate in detecting human waste as traditional laboratory tests. They say the dogs are a more efficient and less costly option for municipalities searching for pollution near beaches, streams, shellfish beds and other bodies of water.

Sable and Logan are among a team of five rescue dogs trained to detect human waste. Scott Reynolds is a retired police officer who previously worked with trained dogs to sniff narcotics. Karen Reynolds also had experience working with dogs on a search and rescue team in Oklahoma.

Officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Maine have utilized the dogs in the past.

After surveying the water in Kittery on Tuesday, the dogs demonstrated their ability to sniff out bacteria during a press event in the rear parking lot of the Kittery Trading Post.

Spruce Creek, which runs behind the trading post, has been the subject of environmental study for several years. The waterway has been declared “impaired” because of high bacteria counts, according to Patrick Marass, a project scientist at FB Environmental. FB has worked to analyze the water system and draft recommendations to clean it up.

Recent studies on the creek focused on measuring the water quality of stormwater discharge coming from outfall pipes. They found the presence of harmful E. coli bacteria in levels that are 10, 20 or 30 times above the legal limits. As a result, shellfish beds have been closed for many years.

Results from an initial 2009 investigation showed outfalls had exceedingly high levels of bacteria in wet weather and even during dry weather. This was especially true at outfalls in Admiralty Village. After discovering these high levels, local officials contracted with FB Environmental to conduct additional sampling to get a better handle on where the bacteria was coming from in the area, which was formerly a housing site for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers.

“Doing it with the dogs is so much faster,” Marass said. “It basically is going to help us … focus the investigation even more.”

The dogs will also be on hand in Portsmouth on Wednesday for a workshop for officials from around the region. They will visit the office of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services at Pease International Tradeport between 8:30 a.m. and noon.

© 2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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