First COVID-detectable dogs in the US
DARTMOUTH – The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office is the first law enforcement agency in the country to train canine units to detect COVID-19, an office spokesman said today.
Sheriffs Office spokesman Jonathan Darling stated that two new dog teams have been added to the agency who have been trained in COVID detection: Captain Paul Douglas and partner Huntah and Officer Theodore Santos and partner Duke.
Huntah (think Hunter with a Boston accent) is a female Black Lab and Duke is a male golden Lab / Retriever mix.
They are both nine months old and half-siblings who were born to the same father just two weeks apart.
Most of the Sheriff’s Office K-9 units are trained to detect dangerous drugs like heroin and fentanyl, firearms, ammunition and explosives, and even missing or distressed people.
Now these two dogs can also detect COVID-19 by its unique smell.
You can also spot advanced COVID variants like the fast-spreading delta variant, according to the sheriff’s office.
But the dogs are not a substitute for a COVID test.
“Best to think of it as a decontaminant,” said Douglas. “The dogs can spot the COVID smell on a counter or table if it was recently touched by a COVID positive person, or even the smell on a handkerchief used by someone with COVID.”
The program was developed by the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University based on an earlier program that trained dogs to find fungi in crops.
FIU officials disinfected medical masks worn by COVID-positive patients with ultraviolet radiation, which deactivates the virus but leaves its odor, for use in training.
The university is currently using dogs for COVID detection on its Florida campus.
The Sheriff’s Office is working with the New Bedford Fire Department and local EMS providers to wear masks for future training aids from local COVID patients.
“Bristol County and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have come this far since the pandemic started last year,” said Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. “We have made so much progress and our new COVID-19 detection program is one way the people of Bristol County can stay ahead of their time.”
“It’s all science,” said Douglas during a small dog graduation ceremony Wednesday. “This program was developed by professors, doctors and scientists from the FIU, and we couldn’t be more proud or excited to be doing it here in Bristol County.”
In the coming months, Huntah and Duke will also be trained to find missing people, the office said.
The dogs were donated by Dr. David Askew and Mrs. Jane Askew acquired from Dartmouth Dental.
Kathy Costa of Katz Pet Supply in Somerset is donating dog food to the Sheriff’s Office, the statement said.
The COVID canines are available for use in Bristol County schools, city buildings, nonprofits, nursing homes, public safety facilities and medical facilities for COVID sweeps.
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