Today Orkin released it’s ranking of the top 25 cities with bed bugs in Canada in 2019. As I live in an area that makes the list, I am often asked about the ranking, about bed bugs and about the work Camo and I do.
Today’s reflection is not really about our real job of locating bed bugs, but it is about the stigma and human factor of bed bug infestations. If you mention bed bugs to most people, you are met with shudders, scowls, and a general sense of “eww”. When you tell the same people that they live in a city that has made the higher end of the most infested cities in the country, and tell them that they will more than likely come into contact with bed bugs at some point, you see shock come over their faces.
I start talking about all the places people may come into contact with bed bugs. I don’t do this to gross people out, or to shock them. I do it to normalize the fact that bed bugs are in the environment and that it is not something that needed to be talked about only behind closed doors. You see if we can normalize the fact that bugs are in the environment and remove the stigma, we can then all work together to start eradicating the problem. When we keep the problem a secret and stigmatized without proper treatment protocols, the problem continues to flourish.
This leads me to discussing the human side that has been unlucky enough to share their living space with bed bugs. Because of stigma, no one wants to be the one to admit that they have bed bugs in their living space. Admitting to it, or worse yet having someone see a bed bug on you or your belongings, often results in the blame game, in ostracization, in isolation, and bullying. Bed bugs scare people. They don’t actually transmit disease, but can trigger allergic reactions and can cost thousands of dollars in pest control bills. Admitting to being “ground zero” of an infestation does nothing for one’s mental wellness.
This brings me to an interesting side job that Camo does. I am sure there are many pro-handlers who would be quick to jump on me for having Camo as both a working dog and as part of the family and for letting him interact with clients and tenants after he is done working. It works for me so I will keep doing it. Here is the thing, often the human side of things that we are searching for needs the mental health benefits of having a visit with Camo when we are done. It might be because they can breath a sigh of relief because Camo had a really boring search, or it could be that it is an overlooked member of the community living is circumstances that, for whatever life dealt them, is living in circumstances that no one really chooses. A visit from Camo, who doesn’t judge them, brightens their day. It technically isn’t his job, and could be cringe-worthy from some in the industry, but I have learned to honour the humanity in the areas we search and I wouldn’t have it any way.
So, let’s start destigmatizing bed bugs. Let’s not keep the discussion to the back room and admit they are here. Let’s work on preventative action plans. If we remove the stigma of bed bugs we can help give back a little bit of humanity and maybe, just maybe, make it easier to gain a foothold on the war against bed bugs and push our ranking down further.