August 12, 2020
By Jessica Mathews / firstname.lastname@example.org
Two Labrador retrievers have been training to detect COVID-19 but need some experience under their paws and practice in the field.
Lori and Jack Grigg own Paradise Dog Training in Fenton and have been training assistance and detection dogs for 40 years. They train certified assistance dogs for people with disabilities, bed bug detection dogs that are hired by pest control companies to search apartments and buildings, and diabetic alert dogs. Lori noticed reports out of the UK about groups training COVID-19 dogs and another group at Penn State University and thought it was something right up their alley.
A 7-year-old yellow lab named Rudy and a 7-year-old female black lab named KC are certified bed bug detection dogs and have been hunting bugs for the past six years. The two have been training since March to detect the live COVID-19 virus odor. Grigg says the dogs have been anywhere from 75-85% accurate and train regularly with the samples they have. The goal is to eventually work in nursing homes, assisted living homes or schools – anywhere the detection of COVID-19 might be used. Grigg says both are very experienced and they’re all business when they’re working.
In order to get the dogs fully trained, Grigg needs volunteers with the live virus to donate saliva but that has proved to be more difficult than originally thought. Since it’s a unique and new venture, there have been some unexpected roadblocks. Grigg says many hospitals are worried about liability so to get live virus from any facility is next to impossible so they’re at the mercy of people that have COVID-19 to volunteer to give samples directly and that’s where they’re running into issues. Grigg says they’re finding that the live samples only remain viable for about 24-25 days when frozen and then they’re no good anymore so they need to keep getting replenished with live samples to be able to train the dogs.
Grigg tells WHMI the testing process is non-invasive, non-painful and gets immediate results so it’s a win-win scenario. She says the process is safe and simple – they have people with the live virus suck on a cotton ball, put it in a baggie and freeze it until they can pick it up. Samples are typically put outside on a porch and picked up so there’s no contact involved. As for the training aspect, she says they use clean paint cans from home depot for the samples and the dogs run along and sniff them to detect if there is live COVID-19 or not.
In addition to samples for further training, Grigg says they’re also seeking groups such as churches, police or fire departments or assisted living homes that would be willing to let them bring the dogs in for free testing and practice. Grigg says they’re ready to move to the next steps where they take the dogs out of the normal environment there and bring them someplace else where they’ll be actually training on other people. She says they have people who volunteer to give regular samples, so the dogs are being trained on live COVID-19 sample and negative saliva samples but they need more samples and different environments.
Grigg noted many people are afraid of liability or catching COVID-19 but stressed she has not contracted the virus and they are very careful. She says they wear all personal protective equipment and no one has contact with the dogs or the virus and there is no live person-to-person contact. Anyone interested can contact Grigg at 810-714-4861.
Meanwhile, Livingston County Health Department Director Diane McCormick told WHMI she was contacted by the couple a couple of months ago to see how they could assist in connecting them with positive cases. Unfortunately, she says it is not that easy. McCormick said she finds it an interesting concept and the use of trained dogs may be beneficial as a screening tool especially in a congregate setting like a homeless shelter or migrant labor housing as examples. She added the use of dogs in detecting various diseases, bed bugs, bombs, drugs, epileptic seizures, has been long established. McCormick said she doesn’t believe dogs should be the sole determination but maybe in conjunction with ongoing COVID testing and it does appear that research is being done to validate the use of trained COVID sniffing dogs at University settings.