SARASOTA, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Heather Junqeira’s horse farm outside Sarasota, Florida is filled with dozens of basset hound and beagle puppies.
The dogs are adorable – but they are not pets. They’re being raised to do an important job during the pandemic.
“We are training dogs to detect the body’s response to COVID-19 in hopes they will be able to indicate on people who are carrying the virus and are not symptomatic,” Junqeuira said.
Junqeuira runs BioScent and is training dogs to detect the coronavirus.
She uses sweat samples from people with COVID-19 to train the dogs.
“They are 4×4 gauze pads that are placed under the armpits of the person who has COVID,” Junqeuira said.
The COVID-19 human sweat sample is put into one container, and regular non-COVID sweat samples are put in other containers. The containers are then spaced out in a training room and the dogs are led through one by one.
The dogs are trained to alert and sit near the COVID sweat samples.
The trainers say the key is using a variety of samples from different people with COVID-19.
“If I was to train the dog with samples from one person, I would only be training that dog to find that person. Then I’m not really training that dog to find COVID. So you have to use a lot of samples and the dog has to figure out what is the common denominator in all these samples. And then they realize ok that is the common denominator. That is what I get rewarded for,” Junqeuira said.
BioScent is training roughly 24 adult dogs, and they have 26 puppies they plan to also train to detect COVID-19.
The training starts once they are about a year old, and the scent training lasts about six weeks.
“They smell ten thousand times more than what we do. A dog can smell a drop of perfume in an Olympic sized pool,” Junqeuira said.
The international airports in Helsinki, Finland and Dubai, United Arab Emirates are already using COVID sniffing dogs.
BioScent is in negotiations with professional sports teams and concert venues in the United States.
“For the dogs, it is nothing but a game of hide and seek. You hide the sample, they know that is their target odor, they go and find it,” Junqeuira said.
Once the dogs alert to someone, a rapid test will be used to confirm whether the person actually has the virus.
BioScent says the process is not dangerous for the dogs.
The basset hounds and beagles that do not succeed in the training program are adopted out.