SARASOTA, FL — The Doctors Hospital of Sarasota has a furry addition to its team of medical professionals on the front line battling the coronavirus pandemic: a COVID-sniffing yellow Labrador retriever named Buffy.
The sweet-tempered 2-year-old pup is a highly trained scent-detection dog from Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, according to a news release from the hospital.
She greets visitors at the hospital’s entrance and, if she detects COVID-19, she’ll lie down at the visitor’s feet and wait for a treat. Visitors will be asked to get additional testing, which can be done free of charge at the hospital or elsewhere if the person prefers.
Trainers at Southeastern Guide Dogs placed Buffy in a scent-detection study about nine months ago, the hospital said. Using deactivated samples from COVID-19 patients at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, she was trained to detect changes in a person’s immune system.
Buffy, Sloopy, Joy and Alia were the first four dogs in Southeastern Guide Dogs history to receive this scent-detection training specifically for COVID-19, according an article in the spring issue of Life Unleashed, the organization’s newsletter. The dogs trained with Laska Parrow, a certified dog trainer with Dog World Sarasota and a certified associate instructor by the National Association of Canine Scent Work.
This scent-detection program is primarily used to train service dogs “to detect anxiety attacks and night terrors based on changes in cortisol levels,” said Muffy Lavens, media relations manager for SGD. “As part of this pilot program, we conducted a study to see if dogs could detect COVID-19. They have been 95 (percent) successful in identifying the virus. At this time, we’re not planning to add additional COVID-19 scent detection dogs, but instead, focus on how scent detection can enhance our current programs and support our mission.”
Labrador retrievers have an estimated 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared with about 6 million in humans, the hospital said. The dogs can detect our body fighting the virus.
Visitors entering the hospital will still be screened by a hospital caregiver, have their temperature taken and be required to wear a mask. Buffy is being used as an extra resource to help keep the community safe.
Doctors Hospital CEO Robert Meade adopted Buffy, and she lives with his family when she is not at the hospital.