Looks like officers have found a new use for a familiar – and furry – security tactic.
Miami International Airport recently announced that it is running a pilot program for Covid-19 detector dogs this September. The month-long program was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in March 2021, making MIA the first U.S. airport to test Covid sniffer dogs. The Miami-Dade Aviation Division is running the program in partnership with the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC), Florida International University (FIU), and American Airlines. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Kionne L. McGhee sponsored the program to support the airport’s ongoing efforts to stop the virus from spreading.
Two fur detectors – Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch shepherd dog – have been specially trained for the program based on protocols from the GFJC and the FIU and are now expected to immediately detect and respond to the virus in public spaces. Both dogs completed hundreds of training sessions at the FIU’s Modesto Maidique campus in Miami this year, and published, peer-reviewed, double-blind trails showed the successful results. Experts found that the dogs’ accuracy rates in detecting Covid-19 increased from 96 to 99 percent during the test.
How exactly the dogs identify carriers of the virus all depends on a smell. The virus causes metabolic changes in a person that lead to the production of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These compounds are then excreted when a person breathes and sweats. These metabolic changes have been reported to occur in all people, regardless of their individual smells. Both dogs at MIA have been trained to recognize this common but specific odor. If any of the K9s indicate that a traveler has the smell of the virus, airport officials instruct the person to have a rapid Covid test.
Sniffer dogs have been used by federal and local authorities across the country for years to track down banned currencies, drugs, explosives, and agriculture – all based largely on odor nuisance. (Some studies claim that search dogs can also identify people with other serious illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy, and various cancers.) Using dogs to identify potential safety issues is not yet new, according to FIU Provost and Professor of Chemistry Biochemistry, Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, this is exactly why the program is successful.
“To be able to apply decades of research in this way to provide extra protection for airport workers at Miami International Airport is humiliating, “Furton said in a statement on the program. “These dogs are another valuable tool that we can use to live with this ongoing pandemic.” In the same statement, Miami Dade-Country Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also commented on the program and what could happen if it ends at the end of the month. “We pride ourselves on doing everything we can to protect our residents,” she said. “I look forward to seeing the airport test its capabilities and extending the pilot program to other facilities in the county.”