HUBBARDSTON — The bed bug detection business is definitely a niche in the area of north central Massachusetts. And what started as an accident became a business of passion for Tom and Nina Welch.
Helping to buoy a local business, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corp. (NCMDC), the economic development arm of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, recently approved a $15,000 loan to Pawsitive Identity K9 Services, a bed bug-detecting business owned by the Welches in Hubbardston. The business provides dogs that are certified and trained to sniff out bed bugs in homes, offices, hospitals, theaters, vehicles and more.
Pawsitive Identity K9 Service works directly with hotels and apartment complexes to identify bed bugs and collaborate with pest control companies for remediation. The NCMDC supports the purchase, certification and training of a new dog, Charlie.
Tom Welch was a K9 officer for 21 years with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department, where he trained and worked with dogs. When he retired, a local pest control company recruited him to work with the company-owned dog that specializes in detecting bed bugs.
At the onset of the pandemic, the company eliminated the bed bug-detecting part of the business but offered Welch the company dog, Kirby. Driven by a love for animals and a business-inclined mindset, Pawsitive Identity K9 Services was born.
“There was virtually no overhead cost at start-up since Kirby was still young enough to keep working and our office space is in our home. We work with several pest control companies who prefer to use canines to detect bed bugs since there is more accuracy and less margin for error than a human inspection,” Welch said.
A dog’s percentage of accuracy in detecting bed bugs is based on everyday training, work in real life scenarios, conducting numerous blind hides as well as double blind hides (a blind hide is when someone other than the handler hides a vial containing bed bugs for the dog to find).
To get dogs trained and certified, Welch said finding the right trainer and canine candidate is crucial as “their personality and characteristics play an important role in finding a dog who will be able to do the job.” Dogs that have a high play and food drive, that are unafraid of their surroundings and people, are strongly preferred for the job.
“This job is a game to them, they love what they do because they’re rewarded each time they find bed bugs, so they’re constantly looking to receive that reward. In our dogs’ case, it’s a food reward,” Welch said.
The road for preparing his new bug-sniffing dog, Charlie, took months. After successfully combating canine parvovirus, Charlie was placed in a shelter where a trainer felt that he would be a perfect candidate for bed bug sniffing. After two months of training, Charlie was picked up by Tom and Nina Welch from Colorado.
“He fit into the family immediately and we haven’t looked back. He’s the sweetest pup and already knows his job responsibilities,” Welch said.
The cost of training the dogs ranges between $7,000 to $13,000, Welch said. The certification process, which consists of three-day training, costs approximately $1,100. The certification is administered by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association. To pass the test, the dog must be able to detect live bed bugs and viable eggs.
“We both love dogs, so it’s a perfect way to have the best of both worlds. Our dogs are just like you and I, they come home after a long day at work and get to relax unrestricted in our home together,” Welch said.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a slow start for the business. With the recent ease in local health guidelines, however, the business is getting busier every week.
“When we go to a job, we follow all the COVID guidelines and respect our customers’ wishes,” Welch said.
Aside from working with larger companies, Pawsitive Identity K9 Services also inspects private homes. The Welches can be contacted at 978-257-2676 or pawsitiveidentityK9@gmail.com.
“Thanks to the financial assistance and support from the North Central Massachusetts Development Corp., we have fulfilled a dream to open our own business and deliver an important service to our local community,” Welch said in a press release.