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Buffy, a 4-year-old female yellow Lab gets a treat by owner Sharon Mead after Buffy, a mosquito slayer, found a mosquito breeding area during a demonstration at Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District in Hayward, Calif., on Thursday Feb. 21, 2008. Mead, who trained Buffy, is a System Specialist for the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District. (Ray Chavez/The Oakland Tribune
HAYWARD -- Buffy, she of the soulful eyes and silky fur, is the scourge of the mosquito world.

The 4-year-old yellow Labrador isn't called "Buffy, the Mosquito Slayer" for nothing.

Buffy detects mosquito breeding water in Alameda County, saving quite a bit of human detective work.

Buffy is one of two Bay Area dogs trained in this type of airborne scent work to combat the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus.

The county's Mosquito Abatement District -- for whom Buffy's owner and trainer, Sharon Mead, works -- is grateful. District Manager John Rusmisel says Buffy, a mosquito hunter for two years, may be added to the payroll.

Her pay? Food and veterinary costs.

Lively and friendly at play, but all business when wearing her "service dog" vest, Buffy sniffs out foul-smelling water from covered utility vaults, crawl spaces of houses and pipes half-hidden in hillsides.

"The signal she gives says, 'This is it' in case I can't see what she's smelling," Mead said.

The signal?

Buffy sits.

It's the easiest signal Hayward resident Mead could teach Buffy. And, when successful, there is always a food treat for the canine.

"I bought Buffy with this purpose in mind," Mead said. "When I went to the breeder's kennel, Buffy left all the other puppies and went out exploring. You could see her sniffing the air."

An independent, air-tracking dog with a strong food drive -- the perfect combination for the quick and efficient mosquito searches.


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Other areas in which dogs have been trained in scent work: search-and-rescue, drug and explosives detection, cancer detection and finding termite infestations in houses.

To train Buffy, Mead created water in the district's lab. She used the same formula prepared for traps that attract female mosquitoes looking to lay their eggs.

Mead created miniature mock-ups of buildings, with openings such as crawl-space vents, hiding bowls of stagnant-smelling water inside for Buffy to smell.

The district is gearing up for its busy spring and summer season, after heavy winter rains.

So is Buffy, who's not the only member of the animal kingdom helping the district ferret out mosquitoes.

The district uses flocks of "sentinel" chickens near Fremont, Livermore and Mountain House to detect mosquito-borne diseases. The chickens' blood is tested frequently in the spring and summer for virus antibodies and diseases.

The district delivers mosquitofish free of charge to homes that need mosquito control in fish ponds. The fish eat mosquito larvae.