These adorable COVID-sniffing dogs are pandemic heroes — but there’s a catch

ROME, ITALY - MARCH 29: Anti-Covid dogs trained by professionals in the fields of safety & security ...
Simona Granati - Corbis/Corbis News/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

Cute animal stories helped me survive the pandemic. Not only were people rescuing animals in droves, but it turned out that coronavirus-sniffing dogs emerged as heroes. But even though there’s now more than ample research that these Very Good Boys and Girls are, in fact, able to accurately detect the virus and help us curb the spread of it, airports aren’t using them. Here’s why COVID-sniffing dogs aren’t being implemented as much as their drug-sniffing cousins.

According to new research published last week in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, while detection dogs demonstrate great accuracy in screening for COVID-19, using them en masse creates huge logistical problems and is prohibitively expensive. Apparently, between the dogs and their well-trained handlers, this endeavor can cost around $26,000 per dog.

Another big issue is that, “there are no national standards” for using scent dogs, Cynthia M. Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the authors of the research, said in a report.

picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images

Humans have been working side-by-side with our best canine friends when it comes to bomb and drug detection, but there’s simply no precedent for using dogs for medical purposes, according to the New York Times. Detecting diseases for medical purposes, it turns out, is more complicated for dogs than drug or bomb detection. Research shows that dogs can detect COVID-19 in a person’s sweat or urine, but scientists aren’t exactly sure what chemicals the dogs are detecting, which makes it hard to standardize and again, super expensive to figure out.

“What are all the ethical considerations? What are the regulatory considerations? How practical is this?” Otto asked. In other words, dogs are magic disease-detecting angels, but we can’t borrow their magic because we don’t know how it works. And because most humans have never worked with dogs this way before, it’s costly to hire the specialized trained handlers that work with them. “I think they absolutely can do it,” Otto told the Times, it’s just a matter of time.

According to recent research, COVID-detection dog’s noses are more sensitive than PCR tests and can smell COVID in less than a second. Because of their accuracy, not to mention the awwww factor, logistical hurdles haven’t stopped some non-U.S. airports and sports venues from using COVID-sniffing dogs and we may see wider use of them in the future, but for now you probably won’t see many coronavirus thwarting pooches on your next domestic flight. There are several studies underway to try to figure all this out, but until then, you will probably only see these expert pups if you’re a NASCAR fan, where COVID-sniffers have been hired as part of a trial.