MANATEE COUNTY — Homeowner Jennifer Rzewnicki was pleased Monday to see a dog sniffing the walls inside her Lakewood Ranch home and not freezing in the sitting position.
That sitting position would have meant that Shadow, a 2-year-old German shepherd, had encountered the odor of Chinese drywall.
Shadow is owned by Von Asgard K-9 Center of Myakka City, and he has been trained to detect the sulfur compounds that are found only in Chinese drywall, suspected of causing pipe corrosion and health problems. Thousands of homes in Florida and other states have been determined to contain the toxic drywall, which flooded the market in the rebuilding effort after the hurricanes that devastated the South in the past several years.
"Shadow is the first certified Chinese drywall detection dog in the nation," said Anthony Gimenez of Professional Building Inspectors of Ellenton, which has teamed with Von Asgard K-9 Center to serve clients who want to know if their homes have Chinese drywall.
The companies charge $395 to have Shadow inspect a home as large as 3,000 square feet, Gimenez said.
The partners have other dogs in training, but so far, Shadow is the only canine sniffer of Chinese drywall.
To train the dog to detect the rotten-egg smell of drywall took some thought.
Master trainer Jeremiah Comes of Von Asgard K-9 Center started by buying the handful of sulphur components that make up Chinese drywall from a laboratory.
Comes then applied the compounds to a play toy but left others untreated.
A dog's nose is a thousand times more sensitive to odors than a human's, Comes said.
When Shadow would pick up the special toy coated with sulphur compounds, he got to take a break and play. With the others, he did not.
"He started looking for that scent because he knew he got to play with it," Comes said.
Shadow quickly associated Chinese drywall with play time.
"Detecting Chinese drywall is now really what he lives for," Comes said.
Shadow's job Monday was to check Rzewnicki's home on Skip Jack Loop in Lakewood Ranch. Try as he might, he couldn't find a whiff of the stuff.
"I am very happy nothing was found," Rzewnicki said.
Rzewnicki said her home is one of six or seven on that street that had Chinese drywall. Her home builder, Taylor-Morrison, recently paid about $90,000 to have her house dismantled to the studs and new drywall and walls installed, Rzewnicki said.