When Huntah and Duke aren’t busy playing catch, the two dogs are usually detecting the presence of COVID-19 in their community. In the past year, the 14-month-old Labrador retrievers have worked at 15 different schools in Massachusetts.
“They love to work,” Jonathan Darling, Bristol County Sheriff’s public information officer, told CBS News Wednesday. “And then when they’re not working, they just want to give you kisses and we love it. They’re so cute.”
Darling said the police department reached out to the Forensic Center at Florida International University last year regarding an emerging study on dogs that can detect COVID-19 odors. Pulling from research dating back to 1993, researchers at the school trained dogs to identify different odor characteristics of things like fungi and viruses.
The study found dogs to be more than 90% reliable in detecting COVID-19 odors, with a very low false positivity rate. So, FIU sent the trained dogs to work on the school’s campus and at state emergency operations. They even screened at the Miami International Airport.
Last year, Duke and Huntah were enrolled in the school’s training program, where they practiced with face masks worn by people with COVID-19, Darling said. When the two graduated in July, they became the first law enforcement K9s in the country trained to detect the virus.
Since graduating, the two sibling pups have worked in three different school districts, police stations, a local health department, town halls and office buildings.
The dogs are trained to sit down in front of an area where a COVID-19 odor is detected. The dog will then alert their handler so that they can mark the area as one to focus on for cleaning. Darling said the dogs are not used in place of COVID-19 testing.
Duke and Huntah also bring joy to the community, Darling said.
“The kids in the hallway just love seeing the dogs and the teachers love to see them and we just bring smiles to people’s faces,” he said. “So in addition to helping keep everybody safe against COVID, if you can bring a smile to somebody’s face, it’s totally worth it.”