Sewage-sniffing dogs helping biologists clean rivers

Posted at 9:52 PM, Jul 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-06 08:57:07-04

WEST MICHIGAN – A team of dogs trained to detect human sewage leaking into rivers are helping biologists clean and preserve local tributaries.

Human sewage is something biologists say is threatening wildlife, fish and in some cases drinking water. That’s why the Environmental Canine Service dogs are dipping their noses in to detect and fix the problem before it’s too late. Expert dog handlers like Laura Symonds says canines have a sense of smell at least 1,000 times better than a human’s.  Her dog, Abby, has been helping keep our rivers, streams and you safe and clean for about a year now.

“Any kind of nose work is really the same,” said Symonds. “So this dog could have been trained to locate explosives or fruit as a customs dog. In this case it’s human sewage.”

The Environmental Canine Services are working alongside biologists at Streamside Ecological Services, collecting water samples throughout the 50 square miles of Rush Creek. Those samples are brought back for Abby and her co-partner Kenna to sniff test for human sewage. Once the dogs have identified a positive sample, it’s taken to a lab for final testing.

“They match the dog responses to the lab testing and they’re over 98 percent accurate,” Symonds said.

Biologist Aaron Snell says using canines are cheaper, faster and more effective at detecting positive samples than most other methods.

“We took the dogs into the field and were able to find pipes with toilet paper hanging out of them,” said Snell.

A lab will test for E. coli levels in Rush Creek. Snell said his team is finding a common trend of streams and rivers testing too high for E. coli, which is a concern for anyone fishing or wading in the streams. Any type of body contact with high levels of E. coli could make someone very sick, according to Snell.