In a dog training centre built inside a shipping container located in a Czech mountain village, Renda, Cap, and Laky are being put to the test.
They sniff at six vessels, each containing a piece of cloth with scent from patients with COVID-19, negative donors, or fake samples.
The team of dog trainers is working in their own time and reports a 95 percent success rate in the detection of the virus in samples of human scent.
“The study is designed to verify dogs’ ability to detect COVID-19 and generate a method enabling the use of trained dogs in combating the pandemic,” said project head Gustav Hotovy.
“The method should also work with other diseases, even more, lethal than Covid-19. In the end, we should be able to detect a huge number of people in a very short time with a trained dog,” he adds.
The first study confirming dogs are able to detect tissue attacked by a virus was conducted in the United States about a decade ago.
Hotovy, a retired cynologist whose team started training the dogs last August, said that the signature changes “so much that it is immediately discernible for the dogs”.
The samples used are obtained merely by rubbing a piece of cotton against the patient’s skin.
The team then has to ensure the sample is virus-free to prevent the dogs from catching the disease.
Using the same sampling method, a Finnish team has been using dogs for testing at Helsinki airport, reporting its dogs can detect the virus with close to 100 percent accuracy.
The Czech team works in its free time and relies on scant financial means provided by a local dog food maker.
Looking for Wally
Cynologist Katerina Jancarikova said the virus-affected tissue made up “just a tiny fragment in the overall scent, a part of the dogs’ puzzle”.
“It’s like looking for Wally,” she said, referring to the popular children’s books in which a tiny character in red and white stripes has to be found in pictures of a huge crowd.
Jancarikova said any dog can be trained for detection as long as it is cooperative.