San Diego Ice Arena

Dogs Deployed in San Diego to Sniff out COVID-19

A pair of dogs demonstrated their abilities Thursday at the San Diego Ice Arena in Mira Mesa, and they’ll do it again Saturday morning.

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Robin wasn’t cut out to be a guide dog. The 2-year-old black lab already dropped out of school.

“She likes squirrels too much,” said Patty Unger, a retired veterinarian.

So, Unger, who said that dogs' noses have proven useful in so many other environments started training Robin to sniff out COVID-19.

“Wastewater management, finding PCBs in landfills,” Unger listed. “They’re using them in Idaho to find bee colonies.”

Unger said she and a dog handler started training Robin and another dog, Grommet, to detect people infected with COVID-19. She said that when people have a disease or a virus, their body will make a chemical that gives off a certain smell dogs can detect.

“So, 10 people that have COVID will all make the same smell,” Unger explained.

Both dogs demonstrated their abilities Thursday at the San Diego Ice Arena in Mira Mesa, and they’ll do it again Saturday morning from till noon at the rink.

Unger said both dogs have a near-perfect track record of sniffing out the virus in people. She said they have conducted numerous tests with samples, with people who already tested positive, and with people who would test positive because one of the dogs sniffed out the virus.

“It was a real gee-whiz moment of, ‘This works! She actually knows what she’s doing,' ” said the smiling vet.

Unger said the dogs are still in training and that more research needs to be done before the process could be fully deployed in places like airports, schools and retirement homes.

“It’s low-tech," Unger said. "It’s high-efficiency. It’s way simpler than a lot of our high-tech stuff."

Atlas Laboratories is providing onsite PCR tests at no charge to help validate the dogs’ suspicions. 

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