'It was horrifying': Couple finds bed bugs in North Vancouver motel
A Vernon, B.C. couple is warning others about their experience after uncovering "dozens and dozens" of bed bugs in their North Vancouver motel room.
Kerrie and Callum Stewart came to the city last week, part of a special trip with their daughter who was in B.C. on a break from studying in Australia.
They'd been driving through the day, and arrived at the Comfort Inn and Suites, on Capilano Road near Marine Drive, at around 8 or 9 p.m.
Callum was tired from the drive, so he turned out the lights and went straight to bed. Karrie went to pick up her daughter, who'd been visiting with a friend, and the pair went to bed when they returned.
Kerrie said her daughter has had experiences with bed bugs before, and normally checks hotel rooms for the pests first before going to bed, but because her father was sleeping, they did not examine the room.
"When we woke up in the morning, I noticed that there were blood streaks on the bed where I slept, and I thought, that's weird," she recalled to CTV Vancouver's David Molko this week.
Her daughter woke up and felt itchy, but thought the bites on her arm may have been from mosquitoes, as she'd been outside the night before.
"But then she realized this could be bed bugs, because she's had them before, and they just send you into a panic," Kerrie said.
Within minutes, bite marks started to show up on her neck, Kerrie said. When they noticed a bug crawling up the wall of the bathroom, Callum went to find the manager.
Kerrie stayed in the room, examining the beds and the corners of the mattresses.
"There was a lot of the black dot excrements and big bed bugs and eggs and it was horrifying," she said.
Having been through the situation before, Kerrie knew to put their baggage in garbage bags to contain the bugs. The family knew they shouldn't have put their baggage on the floor – experts recommend putting luggage in the bathtub or leaving it in the hallway until the room has been inspected for bugs – but they were tired the night before and weren't thinking of it.
The Stewarts said a shift supervisor met them and gave them a new room number, and told them they would not have to pay for their first night at the motel.
When they returned to the room to get their things, members of the motel's staff had just moved one of the mattresses, Kerrie said.
"There were just dozens of bed bugs running around on the top of the bed base that I saw with my own two eyes – the three of us saw – and they scurried away by the time I got my (camera) out so they must have just removed the mattress," Kerrie said.
"So there were dozens and dozens of bed bugs that you could see, and you never usually see a bed bug."
The family moved their bagged possessions into another room, then went to find the manager.
While they were initially told the manager wasn't in, the couple said they saw a man who later introduced himself as the manager in the building's lobby that morning. Not wanting the incident to ruin their vacation, they went into Vancouver for a while, then came back and met with the man. Kerrie said she was upset from the moment of their introduction, and felt like the manager had been dodging them earlier in the day.
Once inside his office, the couple asked for $1,000 in compensation for the items they'd have to replace, or that would be damaged by the high heat treatment that kills the bugs.
"If it's crawling up the bathroom wall, it's in our stuff. They're in our stuff. There were just too many of them," Kerrie said.
She said the manager said something to the effect that the bugs were a brand new problem, though she felt like there was no way that housekeeping hadn't noticed them because of the amount. There were so many, she said, that she thinks the infestation had been an issue in the room for a while.
"So I slammed the desk and said, 'That is not true.' And instantly he became enraged, and yelled at me, and yelled at my husband and said he wasn't going to deal with this and that there was a camera in the room and that we could do whatever we wanted and he wasn't going to deal with us anymore, and he stormed out of the room," Kerrie said.
The manager came back in the room and told her he wouldn't speak to her, but addressed her husband, she said.
Callum explained why they were asking for the money, and Kerrie said the manager told them, "'Then you can throw all of your things that are in the garbage bags right now, without opening them, without looking in them, without sorting them… You put them in the garbage bin right now and I'll give you a thousand dollars."
The manager's account of the interaction was outlined in an email sent to Kerrie on Sunday and later obtained by CTV News.
The email, which appears to be sent from the general manager, said that the shift manager had upgraded their suite, and offered to have their clothing dry cleaned, but they refused.
"Your husband justified demand of $1000 because all your cloth's were from either Loui Vutton or branded outfits of Resorts (sic)," the email said.
The email goes on to say that the couple was not willing to give up their bags, but still wanted the money – something the couple does not deny, but says that it was because they needed to sort through their things first. They said they had cameras, passports and other items in the bags that they did not plan to throw out, and they couldn't throw out their daughter's things without her permission.
The email continued: "I do not want to make any comments otherwise you will have another issue on my attitude. I only wish to say that 'Treat others as you want yourself to be treated.' Whatever we could do in that situation, we have done – unable to do any more."
The Stewarts said that the manager "stormed away" again at the end of their conversation in his office, and they decided the compensation was not going to happen. So they left the motel, then contacted health officials and filed a complaint with Choice Hotels.
She also posted about the ordeal on Facebook, a move that she said was meant to warn others. As of Thursday afternoon, her post had been shared nearly 16,000 times.
Kerrie said the bugs ruined their daughter's trip, and Callum had to get antibiotics when his bites became infected. Neither has been able to sleep through the night because of their itching, he said.
About one-third of people do not react to bed bug bites, and Kerrie said if she'd been travelling by herself she might never have noticed them. Then she would have brought the bugs, through her clothing, on to other places, like loved ones' homes and other hotels.
Other than the email, she hasn't had contact with the motel's manager, but she said he'd written to other people saying that the family had staged the scene in an effort to extort him. Callum said he was disappointed that no one at the motel apologized for anything, "the simplest thing they could have done."
When contacted by CTV News, management issued a statement saying, "We want to express our sincere regret for the disappointment this family experienced during their stay with us."
Management wrote that bed bug infestations are a widespread problem, and that while staff try to control the issue, infestations are not preventable. Staff members are trained to inspect bedding, mattresses and box springs, the statement said.
Choice Hotels Canada also sent a statement to CTV, saying that incidents at individual franchised hotels are the responsibility of the local owners. However the company does provide training, coaching and third-party quality assurance for sanitation, maintenance and pest control issues.
The senior media relations officer for Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed that an environmental health official visited the motel for educational purposes on Tuesday, and added that an official had been to the site for bed bugs last year. The bugs that were the subject of that complaint were in a different part of the motel, VCH said.
The organization offers guides on how to control bed bugs, prevent infestations and what to do after seeing a bed bug in a hotel or in private home on its website.
Bed bugs are brought into hotels by other people, and can be found anywhere, even five-star accommodations.
The bugs do not discriminate, the B.C. regional manager of Abell Pest Control warned, and the first line of defence in hotels is the guests themselves.
Bola Fagbamiye said the best places to check are along the headboards, box springs and night stands, as well as the phones, clocks and lamps in hotel rooms.
"If you see black spots, then there's a concern," Fagbamiye said.
The Stewart family said they hope that changes are made to the way hotels handle bed bugs, but warned the public that ultimately it's their responsibility to check.
"You can look up online for the telltale signs and where to check and how to check," Callum said.
"They're not always as obvious as they were in this case, so it takes a little bit of digging and investigation, but it's well worth the few minutes before you actually take your bags into your room… We were just lax."
With files from CTV Vancouver's David Molko