Purina has also donated £100,000 (116,000€) in funding towards Medical Detection Dogs’ training and potential deployment of the COVID-19 dogs in public spaces.
The UK charity has led the way in training dogs to detect human disease for more than 12 years. This week, Medical Detection Dog announced the findings of its research on scenting COVID-19, confirming that dogs can play a key role in public safety through their ability to detect the virus’ odour.
Researchers will now move to trial the dogs at sites such as ports of entry and public spaces, where dogs may screen individuals rather than samples and contribute to the fight against the virus by detecting COVID-19 carriers. Sniffer dog schemes are currently being piloted in countries including Finland, Russia, Italy and France, but there is currently no centralised best practice process for such programmes.
Medical Detection Dogs and Purina are calling for:
- Time limits on deployment, to ensure that a COVID-19 detection dog will only be operationally deployed for approximately four hours over the course of an eight-hour working day. Each dog will also ideally be limited to 20-minute shifts to prevent fatigue and ensure reliable performance
- Common standards on housing for dogs to ensure dogs are not stressed or distracted by close interaction with people
- Agreed guidance for the training and deployment of future schemes around the world
Medical Detection Dogs founder and CEO Dr Claire Guest said: “Sniffer dogs have the potential to make an important contribution to the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. Researchers around the world are urgently working to meet that need, but it is vital that we collaborate, share the knowledge we have gained on the incredible abilities of our dogs and formalise best practice in training and deployment.
“Along with Purina we want to call for international collaboration between organisations around the world on the implementation of disease detection and research. Our vision is to guarantee that dogs are well-treated and consistent in their performance, and support the reliable, safe creation of similar schemes in developing countries, where dogs could play a huge role in halting the spread of this disease and future pandemics.”
Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers, president of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) said: “We fully support this call from Purina and Medical Detection Dogs for organisations to share knowledge and align on basic principles to train and deploy detection dogs. This represents a vital step in standardising the rollout of schemes around the world to help detect and combat COVID-19 in early stages, and with the prospect of making daily life more ‘normal‘.”
Jeff Hamilton, CEO at Nestlé Purina PetCare EMENA, said: “Purina and Medical Detection Dogs share a belief in the positive role and impact of dogs in society. These dogs could provide fast, effective and non-invasive diagnosis and help to create safer spaces for us all, but we should ensure that each of them is trained safely, humanely and able to effectively perform their important role in detecting COVID-19.
“That is why we along with Medical Detection Dogs are calling for international knowledge sharing, supporting the creation of best practice principles. We believe this can represent a vital first step in helping researchers to agree how sniffer dogs can be best deployed internationally, and will potentially aid in the cost-effective, reliable rollout of schemes in countries around the world.”