Sarge, the mold dog

We love our dogs as companions and family members however, there are some dogs who work and have a significant impact on our lives.  Working dogs have natural talents that are developed and enhanced through intensive training in order to aid others.  They take their jobs seriously; my story is about such a dog who impacted my life.

We are familiar with dog jobs that include: Police work, detection, therapy, herding, search & rescue and service for people with disabilities. We know about the 9-11 search and rescue dogs, guide dogs for the blind and drug enforcement dogs we see at the airport. We see them working on our behalf.

Why dogs?  Dogs are more in touch with what they sense and smell.   When they smell a particular substance, they pay attention and they alert.  Through this skill they can alert us to many things depending on their training.

 Meet Sarge, the Mold Dog


Sarge seeking mold

Sarge seeking mold

Sarge is a two-year-old short haired golden retriever rescue.   He was trained over 1000 hours specifically to identify mold.  Sarge is trained to “seek” and when he locates mold he sits. He is then told to “Show me” and he points with his nose.   Depending upon how he “shows” determines where the mold is located.  

In my case I needed a detection dog as they have an incredible sense of smell.  Their documented limits of olfactory detection range from tens of parts per billion to 500 parts per trillion.   Compared to our six million. Part of a dog’s brain is devoted to analyzing smells which proportionally to ours, is 40 times greater.  Properly trained a dog can smell just about anything.

Due to a health concern, I had my house ERMI tested. The EMRI test determines the level of mold in your home as well as the type (mold’s DNA). It could be obvious mold or simply airborne. There is discussion around the “best testing method” for mold, ERMI was the one recommended to me. It is important to know there are other methods.

The key is finding the source of the mold or really, the source of the moisture.  Mold requires moisture to thrive.  My test came back high so I brought in an expert to find the mold. He looked in all the obvious places dryer vent, roof, windowsills, basement, attic, under the sinks etc.  There was no obvious mold in sight, no water spots and previous leaks had been repaired.  Still, my old house had that musty smell.   He made recommendations due to the high ERMI score which I followed.  Lots of renovating took place.  A good bit of time and money later, I retested my ERMI score which was much better but still too high. How could this be?

Over time I came upon a Medical Practitioner who suggested I have a mold dog in to search my house.  A mold dog?  I never heard of such a thing but liked the idea. Sarge travels in from Florida and I scheduled him for his next trip to Atlanta.

Sarge found three areas that still needed to be fixed in my home.  Two I guessed at, the third I did not know but all are relatively simple fixes.  Once remediated I will have industrial hygienist come in to test my indoor air quality to make sure the environment has been remediated properly. This testing is required by the remediator.

The accuracy rate of using a dog to locate mold is 95%. The benefit of a mold dog is it helps eliminate the extensive testing a remediation company may do in order to find it, should you have mold at all. In addition, when you call a remediation company you already know where the issue lies. This saves money on locating, testing and lab reporting.

Mold can be a problematic. It is an increasing concern, especially in areas with high humidity. Often, if you are going to sell your house a mold test will be required by the buyer. Nothing will make a buyer run faster than to find out a house has mold.    Mold can cause serious illness in one out four people. The most talked about mold is “black mold” or stachybotrys.  This one absolutely needs to be addressed if found.

I’ve learned that any leak or water damage needs to be repaired and dried within 48 hours or mold begins to grow.   Indoor humidity should be below 60%, ideally between 30-50%.  Your dryer vent needs to be made of metal, not aluminum and not plastic.  All windowsills need to be inspected for any kind of rot and repaired.  All plumbing fixtures need to be inspected regularly, HVAC vents cleaned, chimneys protected properly, gutters cleaned and roof in good repair.   

In early 2018 after my first remediation I started checking my humidly levels with my moisture meter.   This way I could monitor the level of Relative Humidity in my house.    Once you fix a mold issue in a home the most prudent way to ensure it doesn’t reoccur is to control your humidity. I adjust my dehumidifiers based on my meter results.  Below is the meter I use.

RH meter

RH meter

In the end, I loved meeting Sarge. He simply found my issues, wagged his tail and was on his way.  He lives in Florida with his family and 17 other trained dogs.  The three dog jobs that were new to me were mold, bedbug and termite dogs.   Bedbugs apparently are big business.  This little guy below, Watson, is a bedbug specialist. Watson is in Atlanta two times per month as he “seeks” bedbugs and “alerts” in three of Atlanta’s Hospital ERs.  Who knew bedbugs were such a problem?


Watson the bedbug detective

Watson the bedbug detective

Man’s best friend sure has come far in terms of us recognizing their value. Not just a loving companions, but as workers and healers with skill sets we as humans simply do not possess.   As I move through my life I am constantly amazed at what I experience and what I learn.  I am grateful.

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

-Mary Oliver

Until next time.

Sat nam.