Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Maggi, a certified mold inspector, notifies Rob Donahue of mold behind the door of a storage room at a Buford home earlier this week. With the recent heavy rains, the aftermath of September's devastating floods, and a surplus of foreclosed, dormant properties across the county, the 7-year-old Labrador/Border Collie's services are in high demand.
BUFORD -- Maggi works the bedroom of a Buford home near Lake Lanier, obeying the "Seek, seek -- show me!" commands of her boss. Her motivation is hand-fed treats of high-protein Purina.
The property has high relative humidity and hidden dampness -- an unhealthy one-two punch. Six colonies of mold fester in a single storage-room corner. It smells like old, wet socks.
At age 7, the Labrador/Border Collie mix is a seasoned pro, her nose like a radar dish. Maggi's owner, Rob Donahue of Investigative Home Inspections, calls her invaluable, one of a handful of mold dogs in Georgia certified by the Florida Canine Academy, where she logged 1,000 hours and eight months of training.
"It's just like a tool, like the camera and microphone" detection equipment, Donahue said.
Maggi is chipper, a skunk's stripe down her neck and chest, her black tail wagging. Suddenly she detects something, a growth behind a wall.
She leads Donahue to mold not by a point of her paw or snout -- she literally flops her body against it, as if to say, "Right here, bucko. Get on it."
Maggi's been pulling overtime in Gwinnett lately for a trifecta of reasons: recent heavy rains, the aftermath of September's devastating floods, and a surplus of foreclosed, dormant properties.
Emergency officials tallied 300 local homes and businesses damaged by the historic floods. Donahue said Maggi's had a nose in about 18 of them.
The reason for her effectiveness? Like most dogs, Maggi sniffs parts-per-trillion. Humans sniff parts-per-hundreds.
"Like I tell customers -- when you smell brownies, she smells the ingredients," said Donahue, a snowbird from the scrappy Boston suburb of Brockton, where his mother once tutored a young Rocky Marciano, the eventual heavyweight champion, he said.
"The fact of the matter is canines are about 90 percent accurate once they catch the scent," he said. "The equipment I use ... is about 60 to 65 percent."
Molds aren't picky. They grow on virtually any substance, including wood, paper and carpet. Health effects from mold exposure include allergic reactions, respiratory problems and the occasional asthma attack, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But a whiff of mold-laden air, even for a nose like Maggi's, isn't likely to cause immediate damage.
"Long-term exposure is the issue," said Donahue. "Whenever the wife gets sick and tired of being sick and tired -- that's usually when I get a call."
Neil Gallien, a mold remediator with Global Prevention Services, often relies on Maggi to pinpoint the genesis of mold colonies so he can debilitate them. He likened her to a highly effective technology.
"She's particularly helpful in situations where it's difficult to find the source," Gallien said. "It's like CSI."
Other canine graduates of the Florida academy can hone in on termites, bed bugs, bomb-making materials, evidence of arson and even cancer, Donahue said. The mold-sniffing technique originated in Europe, he said.
In the long-haul, Donahue said the canine method -- which costs an extra $95 per inspection -- saves mold victims time and money. It also serves to bolster his sidekick's spirits.
"If she doesn't work, she gets bummed out and depressed," Donahue said. "She sits at the back door every morning, hoping I'll say 'yes' ... which means to load up the truck and go.
"The dogs are trained to please, and they're trained to work."