Many of us remember Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, two dogs who could do almost anything to "save the day." We have also read stories and seen newscasts about dogs that have been called "heroes" because of their exploits on the battlefield detecting explosives and rescuing military personnel. And who can forget all those wonderfully trained canine companions, better known as service dogs, that help the disabled to perform many tasks and maneuver safely.
Dogs find the lost or missing by using their powerful sense of smell. That sense of smell also enables dogs to find the dead and dying amid dangerous rubble. In still another arena, dogs are used to sniff out roaches and other nasty critters for elimination. That same incredible sense of smell is used often police officers to ferret out drugs and even explosives.
It is no wonder then that the exquisite sense of smell of a dog's nose should be used as a diagnostic tool in the detection of illnesses. There are dogs that can detect when a person is about to have a seizure and can forewarn the individual to take precautions. Presently, dogs can be trained to sniff out various types of cancer that cause a distinctive odor. Dogs have already been trained to smell breast and lung cancers on patients' breath, since these cancers leave a distinctive chemical signature on the breath. They can also detect melanomas on the skin. There is even research into having dogs trained to detect early stage stomach and pancreatic cancer.
Recently, on a TV newscast, the University of Pennsylvania was touted for doing research with dogs that can detect ovarian cancer 90 percent of the time from tissue and blood samples. That same university is trying to develop an electronic "nose" that can duplicate the dog's ability to detect the distinct smell of ovarian cancer.
It would seem that dogs have become one of the medical profession's best diagnostic tools. Perhaps there should be specially trained dogs in every doctor's office! Of course, there would need to be a whole kennel of trained dogs to sniff out every different kind of cancer or disease. Obviously, such a suggestion, while amusingly intriguing, is hardly practical or feasible. How many doctors will admit that a dog might be the better diagnostician! And how many patients will submit to analysis by a dog!
Let us remember that humans must train the dogs to be the instruments of good in these medical settings. Let us hope that medical facilities can continue to use the dog's marvelous sense of smell to duplicate "electronic noses" that can be used in the early diagnosis and treatment of diseases.