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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Mold Dogs

Air Date: Week of September 12, 2003

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We all know about dogs that can sniff out bombs and drugs. Now there’s another reason to praise the canine nose. Host Steve Curwood speaks with the owner of The Florida Canine Academy, where dogs are trained to detect indoor mold.

Transcript

CURWOOD: You’re listening to Living on Earth.

Here’s what to do if you’re worried about mold in your house: Call a mold dog! That’s right. You can now add mold to the list of things canines are trained to sniff out. Joining me is Bill Whitstine, owner of the Florida Canine Academy, near Clearwater, where he trains mold dogs.

Bill, how did you get into the mold dog business anyway?

WHITSTINE: Well, that was kind of interesting. I had been training dogs to find accelerants after fires - arson dogs – doing a lot of work for insurance companies. And about five years ago, State Farm and All State came to me and said, hey, we’re getting killed with this mold stuff, can you train some dogs for mold? So we started doing some research, and figured out how to do it, and it’s been working really great since.

(Photo courtesy of Florida Canine Academy)   

CURWOOD: Now, how do you train a dog to detect mold? And actually, I suppose the dog already can smell it, but we just want the dog to tell us that it smells it, huh?

WHITSTINE: Exactly. That’s exactly it. It takes between 800 to 1,000 hours to train the dog for mold. Repetition is the mother of skill, and there’s just a lot of little baby steps over and over and over again. When they smell the odor it’s positive reinforcement, a lot of praise, and we also use treats.

CURWOOD: I understand you get your trainees from the local dog pound. What makes a good mold dog?

WHITSTINE: Well, it really doesn’t matter what type of breed or mutt. We look for dogs that – often, they’re trouble-makers, are getting in trouble at home and people turn them in because they’re a handful, or they’re tearing things up, or running away, things like that. Those are often the more intelligent dogs. They just need a job. They’re bored. And they’re not getting the attention they need. And we’re able to direct that orneriness into a job. And they’re a much better pet then because they’re having fun and they have something to do.

CURWOOD: Now, tell, me, what advantage does the use of a mold dog offer to home- owners who think they’ve got a mold problem?

WHITSTINE: That’s the really neat thing about this that I really enjoy. It makes such a difference in the detection of the mold. Currently, with the other devices we can tell you that your home has mold, but where is it? That’s the expensive part of the investigation, because if we don’t know where it’s at we have to tear up a lot more of the house, maybe the entire house. But the dogs can come in and smell it behind the walls and tell you exactly where it’s at.

CURWOOD: What’s life like for mold dogs after they graduate from your program?

[DOG BARK]

WHITSTINE: I want to die and come back as one. They get to ride around in their vehicles everyday and go to different places. But, after hours, they can be a total pet. I have people who take their dogs camping, boating, hiking, playing in the snow.

CURWOOD: Bill Whitstine is owner of the Florida Canine Academy which trains mold detection dogs. Hey, Bill, thanks for taking the time with me today.

WHITSTINE: Thank you very much.

[MUSIC: Massive Attack Vs. Mad Professor “Trinity Dub (Three)” NO PROTECTION (Circa - 1995)]

 

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Mold Dogs

 

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