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Some pollution-sniffing dogs at the Jersey shore have shown they’re No. 1 at sniffing out No. 2.
A team of specially trained dogs has pointed out more than 70 spots in three towns near the Navesink River where human waste may be making its way into the waterway, parts of which are closed to shell-fishing because of high bacteria levels.
The dogs sniffed out potentially broken or leaking sewer pipes, failed septic systems and places where waste might be mishandled or improperly disposed, according to a recent report by the Clean Ocean Action environmental group.
Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli said the dogs were invaluable in laying out in just a few days’ time a map for the town to make repairs.
“At first the scientists and the Ph.D’s we brought down to look at the problem kind of looked at the dogs and said, ‘What can they do?’” he said. “It turns out the dogs were excellent. What started out as ‘Are you kidding?’ evolved into ‘Wow, this is awesome!’”
Lucarelli said his town has $250,000 set aside in its capital budget that it can draw on to do the repairs, which will include snaking cameras along sewer pipes to pinpoint where a fix may be needed.
He also said he particularly liked the way the environmentalists worked with the towns: “No blame, just find it and fix it,” he said.
The issue is taking on urgency in and near the Navesink, which remains a popular spot for crabbing, boating and sailing. Multimillion-dollar mansions line the river’s Middletown shoreline, including one belonging to rock star and philanthropist Jon Bon Jovi.
Environmental groups including Clean Ocean Action brought the dogs from Otisfield, Maine-based Environmental Canine Services to Fair Haven, Red Bank and Middletown, New Jersey, in September.
The company’s dogs have helped find and eliminate sources of pollution in Bayview State Park in Washington state and along Lake Michigan, among other spots.
Environmental and government officials in those places gave the dogs high marks for quickly and efficiently sniffing out the source of pollution that humans were then able to fix.
Scott Reynolds, who runs Environmental Canine Services with his wife Karen, said the dogs were needed to help reverse pollution into the Navesink, where water quality “is significantly deteriorating day by day.”
The dogs are rescued from shelters and trained to detect human waste in the same way that other dogs are trained to sniff out drugs or explosives. They give an alert either by barking or sitting down when they detect something. As important as what they find is what they don’t find: Places where the dogs don’t alert are generally considered to be safe.
Comparisons with laboratory tests — which are more expensive and take longer to get results — show the dogs are highly accurate and will not react to the presence of animal waste.
“Now these places can really go to town and investigate those areas,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “Once you find it, you can fix it.”
In addition to potentially broken or leaky pipes, the dogs scouted out pollution from unlikely sources, including trash bins outside a nursing home where human waste may have been dumped and leaked after a rainfall or having been washed.
Problems were found on public and private property, as well as at several commercial establishments.
“This showed us where we need to pay attention,” Lucarelli said. “It proved incredibly effective.”