A bed bug sniffing beagle took center stage earlier this week, during a murder trial delay.
On Tuesday, a bedbug scare pushed back opening statements in a Milwaukee murder trial.
“As the jury was assembling this morning, one of the jurors mentioned to one of my bailiffs that he was certain, that is the juror not the bailiff, that he had been exposed to bedbugs either in court or in connection with the jury panel or something like that,” Hon. Judge Mark Sanders explained to the courtroom Tuesday afternoon.
The court called in Benji, a 9-year-old beagle with Batzner Pest Control, whose expert nose is trained to sniff out bed bugs and their eggs.
“I’m confident there’s not going to be any concern, but I just want to check it out. I don’t want to unnecessarily expose people to worry, or expose people to, you know, bed bugs,” Sanders said.
Benji did a sweep of the entire courtroom on Wednesday and did not find any evidence of bed bugs, which allowed the trial to resume Thursday.
WISN 12 News met with Benji and his handler, Jess Pestlin, to learn more about how Benji trains for his job.
“They smell a lot more than we do. Their scent receptors in their brain are a lot larger than ours,” Pestlin said. “The main thing is the search-and-find activity is fun for the dog.”
Pestlin said on any given day, they could get three to 20 calls for Benji to check out.
“Going through hotel rooms, apartment buildings, assisted living center, hospitals, clinics,” Pestlin said. “Anywhere where somebody reports, sees or worries about a bed bug, we will be there.”
The Milwaukee County Circuit Court system contracts Batzner Pest Control to do quarterly sweeps of its courtrooms. Wednesday’s sweep was in addition to those regularly scheduled searches.
When he isn’t working, Benji is training in Batzner’s office. They use live bed bugs, hidden away in a small enclosed tube.
Pestlin said Benji has a 90% success rate in finding bed bugs, unless he finds food along the way.
“If somebody were to litter a bunch of Cheetos on the flor, then his accuracy might go down,” Pestlin said. “They’re well trained dogs, they’re very good dogs, but they’re still dogs.”
When he does discover the biting bugs, Benji is rewarded with treats and belly rubs.