FREETOWN, Mass. (WPRI) — Rapid and PCR tests won’t be the only way to detect COVID-19 in some Massachusetts classrooms.
COVID sniffing K-9s have gone through all five schools in the Freetown-Lakeville district throughout the school year and were in Norton on Wednesday, according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO).
Huntah, that’s Hunter with a Boston accent, and Duke are the first law enforcement K9s in the country trained to detect the scent of COVID, which is odorless to humans but has a specific scent to their trained noses.
“We’ll go right in the classroom, if there’s students in there, and our dogs actually work right through it. They just walk through, they’ll go over the backpacks, they’ll go around the teachers,” BCSO Capt. Paul Douglas said.
If one of the dogs smells COVID on a desk, keyboard or trash barrel, they will sit down, alerting staff that the area has been exposed to the virus and needs to be sanitized. The dogs cant detect the virus in humans themselves.
Freetown-Lakeville Superintendent Rick Medeiros said the dogs were great at detecting COVID in their filtration system, indicating that they needed to change out the filters more frequently.
Huntah and Duke were trained over the summer 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.
BCSO says when they were training 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.
Scientists say there’s a 99% accuracy rate in the dogs finding COVID.
Huntah and Duke have already been used in the Fairhaven School District and Superintendent Tara Kohler said she was glad to have them there.
“I see it as a great opportunity for kids to recognize that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate the risk and I want them to feel secure and safe and not anxious about their surroundings,” she explained.
BCSO says Huntah and Duke are stepsiblings, born two weeks apart with the same father and different mothers.
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.