(WHDH)-Trained four-legged officers are using their noses to detect the coronavirus in Bristol County.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement organization in the United States to have K-9s trained to detect COVID-19.
“Bristol County and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have come so far since the pandemic started last year,” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said. “Today, festivals are happening, restaurants are full and concert venues are packed. We’ve made so much progress, and our new COVID-19 detection program is one way the people of Bristol County can stay ahead of the curve.”
Huntah, a 9-month-old female black lab, and Duke, a 9-month-old male golden lab and retriever mix, have been trained for nine weeks to discover the unique odor of COVID-19 through a program developed by Florida International University’s International Forensic Research Institute, according to the sheriff’s office.
FIU officials provided medical masks worn by COVID-positive patients for the training odors. When the dogs detect the scent, they are rewarded with a ball.
An ultraviolet system was used on the masks that kills the contagious portion but leaves the COVID odor, the sheriff’s office said, making it safe for the canines and officers to use as training tools.
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.
“This is all science,” BCSO Capt. Paul Douglas said during a small canine graduation ceremony on Wednesday. “This program was developed by professors, doctors, and scientists at FIU, and we couldn’t be more proud or excited to execute it here in Bristol County.”
The dogs are being trained for disinfection purposes, and will be brought to schools to sniff door handles and pick up the COVID scent that some machinery may not be able to detect.
Huntah is being handled by Douglas and Duke is being handled by Officer Theodore Santos.
The two dogs, who share the same father, will also be trained to locate missing people.
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