Taking a bite out of mold

Last updated on May 26th, 2022 at 02:08 am

Taking a bite out of mold.
Muskego business is first in state to use a trained mold-detecting dog.

Scott Hepfner guides his dog Bear along some cabinets in his Muskego home. After a few paces, Bear sits down and points her head downward.
No, she’s not tired.
She found mold — contained in small jars put there by Hepfner as a training course for Bear.
Bear gets a few bits of dog few as a reward.
Hepfner hopes to be handing out a lot of those treats in the coming years in his new role as founder of Wisconsin Mold Dog Detection LLC.
A former Brookfield police officer and mortgage broker, Hepfner decided to go into the mold detection business after reading an article about mold-detecting dogs trained by the Florida Canine Academy.
He had read about the growing concerns over mold infestations of residential and commercial buildings, and how the insurance industry was limiting its liability for damage caused by mold.
“I had been looking to start a business, so, when I read the article, I contacted the Florida Canine Academy,” Hepfner said.
It wasn’t long before he was in business, working out of his Muskego home.
Like other mold-detecting dogs trained by the Florida Canine Academy, Bear was adopted from an animal shelter. She’s a young Labrador mix, possibly with German Shepherd, Hepfner said of his new employee.
She got about 1,000 hours of training at the academy, and will be tested quarterly and recertified annually by the academy.
Hepfner also took a training course at the academy, learning how to work with Bear. And he became certified in mold detection through the Detroit-based National Association of Mold Professionals.
While you don’t necessarily need a dog to detect mold in a building, a dog can do a better job pinpointing mold infestations, Hepfner says.
Thus, the fees he charges can be made up in cost savings for repairs, he says.
“If you know exactly where the mold is, you might be able to just replace part of a wall rather than tearing out the whole thing,” Hepfner says. “The dog can pinpoint exactly where the mold is. Without a dog, you might have to go through a costly and time-consuming wholesale demolition of walls, floors and ceilings.”
Inspectors who don’t use dogs rely on mold testing such as air sampling, surface swabs, moisture detection and visual inspection to look for mold, Hepfner notes.
His charges are based on the size of the building being inspected. For a typical 2,500-square-foot house, the cost would be $300. For a 3,500-square-foot home, the cost would be $400. Fees for commercial buildings are similarly based on square footage.
There may also be lab fees if the customer chooses to have whatever is found identified.
Bear is the first mold-detecting dog in Wisconsin and one of about 36 nationwide.
Hepfner expects to be busy with Bear.
“Mold now is like asbestos was and then radon was,” he says. “The problems were recognized and a lot of investments were made to take care of those problems.”
More airtight building construction methods are often cited for the increase in mold infestations. The airtight construction traps moisture in homes, creating conditions conducive to mold growth.
Florida Canine Academy also trains dogs for detection of bombs,drugs, people, weapons, termites and accelerants. About five years ago, company owner Bill Whitstine began working with researchers to study how dogs could also be trained to detect mold.
After more than two years of study, the researchers found that dogs could be trained to sniff out specific microbial volatile organic compounds associated with more than 18 specific species of the most common “toxic” molds, according to information from Whitstine’s company, which also notes that finding hidden mold is not as hard for dogs as finding arson accelerants, bombs or drugs.
As a result of that research, Whitstine founded Mold Dog as a subsidiary of the Florida Canine Academy.
The Florida Canine is online at www.mold-dog.com. Hepfner can be reached in Muskego at 262-844-6607.

Dec. 26, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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