Kittery's super pooper snooper can track what others flush away

By Charles McMahon
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Courtesy photo Sable, the sewage-sniffing dog, and trainer Scott Reynolds are on the scent.

KITTERY, Maine — Man's best friend could soon lead town officials and environmentalists toward sniffing out sewage problems plaguing local watersheds.

Sable, the sewage-sniffing dog, could arrive in town as early as October and is expected to assist a variety of Seacoast communities pick up the scent of septic system leaks and other sources of potential contamination.

Phyllis Ford of the Spruce Creek Association said 3-year-old Sable and his trainer, Scott Reynolds, are expected to travel from Michigan to the Seacoast and will most likely spend a week assisting different municipalities in Maine and New Hampshire.

Ford said she learned about Sable's sniffing specialties about three years ago and was amazed to learn that the canine would be able to follow the scent of human fecal matter or detergent up the path of a pipe buried in the ground to the possible source.

Ford said with Sable's help the organization would only further its ongoing efforts to identify sources of illicit or accidental human waste discharge into Spruce Creek and its surrounding watershed.

High bacteria concentration in the different waterways around the Seacoast have prompted warning from environmentalists from both states. Currently the Spruce Creek watershed is closed to clamming by the state due to an increase in fecal bacteria, she said.

"We know we have a poo problem," Ford said.

The Kittery resident said the association suspects the increased levels of fecal matter in the watershed are not due to deer, dogs or other animals but is from septic systems and having a "human influence."

Ford said she considered the method of using Sable as a "financially viable way to find out what's further upstream" and cheaper than sending cameras up the pipelines for more testing.

With the aid of a grant, Ford said the group will also make use of a fluorometer to detect "optical brighteners," or substances in detergents that give off a fluorescent glow, in Kittery's waters. Ford said the group hopes to alert people to grants available to help fix the problems.

The 250-member association will be turning to the Town Council to see if they will be willing to share part of the costs of Sable's visit — estimated to cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Forrest Bell, owner of FB Environmental in Portland, said his company is working with the SCA and other Seacoast towns to determine who will benefit from the sniffing powers of Sable.

So far North Hampton, Rye and possibly one or two other Seacoast communities in New Hampshire will employ Sable's services.

Bell said through monitoring and land use assessment, his firm has a good idea of where the suspect problem areas are in terms of contamination already and Sable should be able to hone in and track the scent to its source.

The bacteria is known as Enterocci and is essentially a saltwater form of e-coli, said Bell.

The cost of the weeklong visit would be spread out from town to town so Kittery would only be required to pay a portion.

Bell said after learning about Sable's talents he was somewhat skeptical and amused, but after one of his employees saw Reynolds and his partner at a conference in California he said he began to see the legitimacy of the service.

Reached at his home in Michigan, Reynolds said he has been training dogs in various scenting abilities for about 12 years. Having previously been involved in search and rescue for missing persons, Reynolds said he has also trained and certified dogs in narcotics and evidence detection.

Currently he works for an environmental engineering company, which is where he developed the idea for a rapid screening method to determine human sewage or detergent using the aid of specially trained canines.

Reynolds said the benefit of using Sable is that results are almost automatic rather than having to wait two weeks for lab results.

In a comparison of lab results to Sable's sniffing abilities, Reynolds said his four-legged friend has an 87 percent accuracy rating.

The mixed breed German Shepard was rescued from an animal shelter and lives at home with Reynolds and his wife and three dogs.


Courtesy photo Sable the sewage-sniffing dog

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