Michigan’s star detective

Canine inspector can sniff out offenders who discharge sewage illegally into drains

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

BHARAT LAL SETHMeet Sable, the first canine with a nose trained for human sewage and detergents. He is approximately 76 cm at the shoulders and weighs 34 kg. His long body is characteristic of his Alsatian roots. A fussy eater, Sable prefers soft canned food mixed with hard kibble, made from coarse grain. He loves yogurt. An offspring of mixed lineage, Sable is as thin as a rake. Yet he is strong. Scott Reynolds, his guardian and trainer of two years, has to struggle to hold him back when walking him on leash. At home, Sable is a gentle dog. He rises early and loves to cozy up with Reynolds. Once on the job, the German shepherd-mix has a no-nonsense approach. Sable’s job is to detect illicit discharge of wastewater in drains meant to carry rainwater. He makes a dash for the nearest manhole and stormwater drain outfall to bring to book those guilty of sewage crimes. If his estimated 200 million-plus scent receptors detect human sewage or detergents, he barks at Reynolds. The duo have been employed to sniff out illegal sewage and laundry connections in three Michigan counties in the US. Their weekly consultancy fee is anywhere between US $5,000 and $10,000. Sable has come a long way from his days in Mackenzie’s Animal Shelter in Lake Odessa, Michigan. Life’s main tasks then were eating and chasing tennis balls for exercise. His life changed when at the age of 15 months, the Reynolds adopted him; Scott Reynolds and his wife Karen, between them, have more than 30 years of experience in training scent-tracking dogs in multiple disciplines. In July this year, the couple launched their own company, Environmental Canine Services. Sable had a video showcasing his talents—agility, strength, persistence in getting what he wants. It was up on the animal shelter’s website. Sable’s video impressed the Reynolds. He was brought out to meet them when they visited the shelter. His adoption was finalized in March 2007. Within a month, Sable was training hard. He followed Reynolds round Michigan’s county neighbourhoods to sniff human sewage from residential septic tanks and municipal sources. Next came detergents. He spent days learning to sniff and recognize washing powder. This would help him track illicit laundry connections later when he started on the job. There would be a juicy bone for Sable each time he discerned detergents in drains. The small rewards motivated him. In July 2007, Sable went for live field trials. Scott flushed dyes down suspec - ted toilet connections to trace illicit discharge from outfall to source. He tested Sable in 200 urban and rural settings where data existed. Sable scored 84 per cent rate on accuracy; he had passed with flying colours. Sue Cubic, senior engineer with Michigan’s Genesee County Drain Commission, for whom Sable worked, has been quoted by the media saying the dog provides quick results. Lab reports

Sable’s detection skills are
84 per cent accurate. He
helps save hundreds of
dollars on lab tests

of water samples take two to three weeks to prepare. The first test has to be followed by four to five confirmatory tests. Each test costs US $100-200. Sable’s quick detection abilities save this money and time. Fear of infection is an occupational hazard. Sable therefore undergoes routine checks including frequent blood tests. Environmental Canine Services has now expanded its team. It has a full time dog handler in Dan Ringle. Sable now has company, and colleagues. Sky an Akita (Japanese breed) mix and Logan, a rough collie, both are two years old. The two hold promise of drive and a good nose. Soon they too will be out on field-work following in Sable’s footsteps.

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