Massachusetts schools turning to COVID-sniffing K9s

Move over PCR tests, dogs are now trained to sniff out COVID in schools.

“This is what public safety is all about,” said Bristol sheriff spokesman Jonathan Darling, of the first COVID-sniffing K9s in the U.S. “It’s to try to keep people safe and healthy, and that’s the core goal of law enforcement.”

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson heard from a friend who saw that Florida International University was researching and deploying COVID-sniffing dogs around campus, and inquired about whether he could train his own virus hounds.

“We were just blown away by how accurate – and the science behind it,” Darling said. He’s not kidding: in a double-blind study, the dogs are 97.5% effective at detecting COVID-19 on people and surfaces, higher than the 97.2% accuracy rate for PCR tests.

Ken Furton, the founder of the Detection Dog Program at FIU, said he got the idea for the research shortly after the pandemic arrived in the U.S., having already conducted 25 years of research into dogs’ capability to detect explosives, narcotics, and seizures.

Hodgson’s department acquired two half-sibling puppies from a breeder in Maine: Huntah, a female black lab, and Duke, a male yellow lab, for this purpose. A local dentist’s office paid for the dogs and a local pet store supplied their food, Darling said.

Freetown-Lakeville Superintendent Richard Medeiros was the first one in the country to bring the dogs into school starting in September, and they’ve since come once a week, and expanded to two additional local districts.

“The elementary kids love the dogs, and they do allow them to interact when they’re technically not working, and even the high school and adults appreciate it,” he said. “It (also) has law enforcement in the building in a positive way.”

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