Da Vinci Academy students watched Thursday as two lively dogs, Sydney and Annabelle, tracked the scent of a rising epidemic: bed bugs.
The school invited a Cumming-based bed bug dog service to Sara Atwill's seventh- and eighth-grade class to educate students about the blood-sucking pests.
"Bed bugs are insidious creatures. They hide everywhere," said Karen Denardo of the company Quest K9 Detectives Inc.
Denardo and business partner Adrienne Grabowski have worked in pest control since 2008.
Though the Northeast region of the United States is seeing the most infestations, the demand for pest control services in Georgia is also growing, Grabowski said.
"The problem is making its way down here," she said.
The nocturnal insects, which are flat and reddish brown, returned early this decade after almost a half-century of inactivity.
Shane Reedling, who owns 36 properties in Hall County, said several local landlords are fighting a losing battle with the parasite.
"The bugs are a lot tougher than they had in the 1950s. Before, we had DDT and now we don't have it," he said of the synthetic pesticide that was banned in the 1970s.
He said it can take multiple treatments costing up to $600 per bedroom to eradicate the pests.
To confront the problem before it escalates, home and business owners are beginning to look at early detection, Denardo said. Enter, the bed bug-sniffing dogs.
According to Denardo, the service dogs can scan a hotel room for live bed bugs in about three minutes.
"Bed bugs are most commonly found in beds, box springs and mattresses, but we've also seen them in picture frames, kitchen cabinets and computer monitors," she said.
The dogs, Sydney the beagle and Annabelle, a puggle, were trained in Florida by J & K Canine Academy.
Just as drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs, the training begins with the scent.
At Da Vinci Academy Thursday, the service dog owners hid vials filled with bed bugs around the room. The dogs methodically sniffed the area before clawing at the location they believed the bugs were at.
"It's cool because I don't think they've come to too many schools before," seventh-grader Kinsey Poland said.
Denardo said they use the same training at home every day to keep the dogs' senses sharp. She said the animals are about 98 percent accurate.
After the dogs locate the insects, a professional pest control company is often hired. The company typically uses heat-based eradication or chemicals, Denardo said.
"Some people bring us out after the treatment, just for the peace of mind," Denardo said. "It's also a psychological issue. Every mosquito bite they get, they think it's bed bugs again."
Denardo recommended to students that if their families find bed bugs, they shouldn't move to a guest bedroom.
The bugs will follow. She also said there are bed bug mattress protectors on the market that can prevent or even trap the insects.
Reedling said anyone who suspects an infestation should seek a professional for help.
"They shouldn't waste their time and money trying to treat it themselves. Hire a professional," he said.