Gary Strayer and his dog used to seek out bad guys.
Now it's bedbugs.
The Whetstone High School graduate and northwest Columbus resident retired July 1 as the sergeant in charge of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit.
Since then, Strayer has formed K-9 Bed Bug Detection LLC with partners Tom Presock and Gerry Azzi, who has a dog-training facility in Morrow County.
Such an enterprise wasn't in Strayer's retirement plans, he said, but then he got a telephone call from another canine handler in the Cleveland area shortly before deciding to pull the pin on his badge.
The caller mentioned he had a dog that detected bedbugs.
"To be honest, I thought he was a nut," Strayer said.
"I used to get calls all the time from people who thought they were dog-handlers."
But a little bit of research revealed that not only do sensitive-nosed man's best friends excel at detecting bedbugs, but also that it might be a viable business enterprise.
"It was kind of right up my alley," Strayer said.
K-9 Bed Bug Detection operates out of Strayer's home, but the dogs live and train at Azzi International Services for Dogs, a 1,200-acre facility in Morrow County.
Unlike many others who have gone into canine bedbug detection, Strayer said he doesn't treat his dogs like pets.
"I'm not saying that's bad; I'm saying I don't believe in it," Strayer said.
"Dogs need to be treated like dogs."
Azzi has been training dogs for 30 years for the sheriff's office and a wide array of law enforcement agencies, Strayer said.
"Nobody knows dogs better than he does," he said.
K-9 Bed Bug Detection has two dogs, a Belgian Malinois and a far-less-intimidating yellow lab, and each has undergone between 200 and 400 hours of training.
"They're great working breeds," Strayer said.
Although it's early days for the enterprise, the former deputy said he's already realizing he's going to have to rebuild some bridges with pest-control companies that have been burned by supposed bedbug-detecting dogs that lacked the training his two have undergone -- and sometimes falsely indicated an infestation when there wasn't one.
"There's a lot of mental stress that goes into having bedbugs and it's the most-expensive pest to get rid of," Strayer said.
"It's very costly and there's no room for error because you're playing with people's lives," he said.
"There's a stigma attached that people have to get over.
"We're trying to stress proactive searches versus reactive."
Strayer, 48, graduated from Whetstone in 1983. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy, after which he landed a job as a deputy.
He worked his way up to sergeant and eventually became head of the K-9 unit responsible for tracking criminal suspects and missing persons, evidence recovery, bomb detection, drug detection and general patrol duties.
Strayer said he handled dogs trained to detect explosives, and often was on hand for visits to central Ohio by presidents and presidential candidates.
"If I can handle a presidential detail, I think I can find a bedbug," Strayer said.
For more information, visit k9bedbugservices.com.