NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — Dogs can find missing people and detect dangerous drugs, firearms, ammunition, and explosives. And now, you can add COVID-19 to the list.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) announced Thursday that K9s Huntah and Duke are the first law enforcement K9s in the country trained to detect COVID-19. The Sheriff’s Office celebrated the dogs graduating from the agency’s COVID-19 Detection Academy in a small ceremony on Wednesday.
Huntah, that’s Hunter with a Boston accent, according to the sheriff’s office, is a nine-month-old female black lab, and Duke is a nine-month-old golden lab/retriever mix.
The Sheriff’s Office says the dogs are actually stepsiblings, born two weeks apart with the same father and different mothers.
The dogs were trained through a program developed by Florida International University’s (FIU) International Forensic Research Institute, which used a similar program for dogs detecting fungus in crops and adapted it to detect COVID-19, which has a unique odor.
The Sheriff’s Office says FIU provided medical masks worn by COVID-positive patients for the training odors, and an ultraviolet system was used on the masks, which kills the contagious portion but leaves the scent, making it safe for the dogs and officers to train with.
While it’s not a substitute for a COVID test, the Sheriff’s Office says these kinds of dogs could be a good line of defense at places like airports, concerts, and sporting events, but could also detect the COVID odor on everyday items touched or used by someone with the virus.
“It’s best to think of it as a decontamination tool,” BCSO Capt. Paul Douglas said in a statement provided by the sheriff’s office. “The dogs can detect the COVID odor on a counter or table if it was recently touched by a COVID-positive individual, or even detect the odor on a tissue used by someone with COVID.”
The Sheriff’s Office is working with the New Bedford Fire Department and local EMS providers on acquiring masks worn by local COVID patients for future training aids.
BCSO Lt. Kenneth Almeida and Sgt. William Dillingham led the training program the past few months for Capt. Douglas (partnered with Huntah) and Officer Theodore Santos (partnered with Duke). In the months ahead, Huntah and Duke will also be trained in locating missing people, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The BCSO COVID canines are available to schools, town buildings, non-profits, nursing homes, Councils on Aging, public safety facilities, medical facilities and more across Bristol County.
Anyone interested can send a request letter to Sheriff Hodgson, 400 Faunce Corner Road, Dartmouth, Mass., 02747. Public safety organizations seeking an urgent COVID sweep can contact Capt. Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org and Supt. Steven Souza at email@example.com.