By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Zena, a specially trained 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, died Monday in the comfort of her home with the people she loved, said her owner, Paul Collins.
“It was a devastating blow to us,” Collins said Thursday.
The hardest part came Tuesday morning, Collins said, when he habitually went to get Zena from her backyard kennel to go to work a building in Port Townsend that morning — and realized she wasn't there.
“I didn't really want to go to work that day,” he said.
Zena was the centerpiece of Collins' mold-inspection and remediation business, Enviro-Clean Northwest, and was a certified service dog for Collins, helping him deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
She was trained at Vom Kaiserhofe Training Center in Lawrence, Kan., under Tom Brenneman and was one of about 20 dogs in the United States certified in detecting toxic mold.
Over the years, she learned to detect about 20 toxic molds that grow in the Pacific Northwest, Collins said, and during her career, she investigated buildings across the state.
They had regular clients in Seattle and Olympia, and volunteered to help with such disasters as flooding in Lewis County and in Pacific near Auburn in 2009.
In response to an announcement of her death on Collins' Facebook page, both friends and clients have been calling and sending flowers.
“Zena's really touched a lot of people's lives,” Collins said.
There is no apparent connection between mold-sniffing duties and her death, he said.
Collins said Zena only worked about 15 minutes at a time, was immediately removed from infected buildings after an inspection and was tested every six months to make sure she had no ill effects from the mold.
An exhaustive series of tests performed by Texas A&M Veterinary Hospital showed that there were no molds in her system, Collins said.
While losing Zena put a dent in his business, Collins is dealing with the loss of his companion.
'Part of family'
“They are like a part of the family,” he said
The trainer in Kansas warned him to not get too close to working dogs, but that wasn't possible with Zena, who only wanted belly rubs, hugs, kisses and playtime, he said.
“A part of me never wants to have a dog again,” he said.
But to keep the business going, the search for a new dog already has begun.
A savings account set up to purchase and train Zena's successor on her expected retirement in 2014 was emptied to pay for veterinary care in the attempt to save Zena.
Collins says final vet bills have piled up to more than $3,000. A fund has been set up at KeyBank for people to donate to help him pay the bills and fund a future mold-sniffing dog.
Dogs trained to sniff out mold cost about $8,000 to $10,000, and a Czech Republic-bred dog might be made available in the next few months, he said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.