Trained dog alerts Savannah Riverkeeper to sewage leaks

Beaudreau showed off his sewer-sniffing skills by lying down and barking when he smelled something foul around a manhole cover near the Savannah Riverkeepers’ office.

For alerting Savannah Riverkeeper director Tonya Bonitatibus to the smell of human waste, the black Catahoula Leopard Dog got to play with his special ball.

“He only gets to play with this toy when he’s working,” Bonitatibus said. “It’s a game to him.”

Beaudreau has been trained to find sewage leaks or illegal dumping, such as from RVs, that could contaminate storm drains and creeks. In a city as old as Augusta, sewer leakage is a difficult problem to monitor.

“It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem,” Bonitatibus said. “People don’t think about the sewage that leaks from the pipes underneath the city.”

Not only does Beaudreau find the leaks, he draws attention to a subject nobody wants to discuss.

At a conference in Portland early this month, Bonitatibus said people stopped her on the street to ask about Beaudreau and the service he performs. Over and over she found herself telling people about problems with leaking sewage.

“It takes a very nasty subject and makes it one that you can have a conversation about,” she said. “He makes it OK to talk about it, which is fantastic.”

Bonitatibus is still working on a plan to use Beaudreau to work with the Augusta Utilities Department. She hopes he will help patrol areas that are already clean to keep them that way and to quickly identify the source if a problem arises.

Bonitatibus adopted Beaudreau when he was 5 weeks old to keep her safe when she’s out on the river alone. She saw how much time and money it cost the city to find these leaks and began thinking that a dog would be more efficient.

Beaudreau, now 3 years old, is one of only three sewer-sniffing dogs in the country. He was trained by Southern Canine Solutions in Augusta, which usually trains bomb-sniffing and narcotics dogs.

He started training about a year ago. It took about eight months and included samples of raw sewage taken from the wastewater treatment plant. He is still learning his job, Bonitatibus said.

“Right now, he’s too sensitive. So any time anybody pees on a tree or whatever, he lays down and is like, ‘Here!’” she said, adding that he still has to learn when he’s working and when he’s not.

“It just comes with maturity,” she said.

Off the clock, Beaudreau relaxes in the air-conditioned Savannah Riverkeepers
office, chases dragonflies and bass in the river and entertains Bonitatibus’ two young sons.

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