News Feature | June 4, 2015

Rescue Dogs Sniff Out Water Pollution

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A new method for sniffing out water contamination relies on man's best friend.

Environmental Canine Services, a consultancy headquartered in Maine, "is the first in the world to use scent trained canines to provide a rapid means for detecting and source tracking human fecal contamination in storm water, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans," Michigan Live reported.

The company is the brainchild of Scott and Karen Reynolds, a married couple with a passion for pets and the environment. They train rescue dogs to locate "illicit discharges in storm drain systems and other types of aging water infrastructure across the United States," the report said.

The first dog the company rescued was a German Shepherd mix named Sable. Joined by a Collie mix named Logan, the pair immediately proved skillful at sniffing out E. coli.

They demonstrated their skills in Exeter, NH, where Norris Brook, a small tributary, is undergoing restoration efforts.The dogs put their noses to five samples on the excursion. "While the town of Exeter had samples from the Norris Brook tested by the state and knew E. coli was present, the dogs were helpful in determining if illicit human discharges were in the water," the Portsmouth Herald reported.

"Sable has been scent sniffing since 2007 and will bark when [she] finds a water sample that's contaminated. Logan has been sniffing since 2009 and he sits down when he detects a bad water sample. Scott and Karen Reynolds, owners and directors of canine training, said Logan isn't much of a barker," the report said.

Karen Reynolds spoke to WJR Radio about the origins of the company.

"Scott graduated with a degree in environmental studies from Michigan State and had some experience working with and training rescue canines," she said. "We looked far and wide for a long-legged dog that showed natural curiosity in finding a particular scent and loved the water because we often work in storm drain ditches. We saved Sable, our first dog, from a shelter. Now she's known across the country as 'Sable the Sniffer'."

She said the deterioration of critical infrastructure creates demand for the company's services.

"Our method is rapid and cost effective. We've had so many requests from small communities to do this kind of work because other methods are time consuming, costly and labor intensive," she said.

To learn more about detecting water contamination, visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.