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'The Odor Of Sickness,' COVID Sniffing Dogs Search Norton Middle School For Traces Of Virus

NORTON (CBS) - A pair of police cruisers from the Bristol County Sheriff's Office pulled up to Norton Middle School Wednesday morning. They were carrying a pair of COVID sniffing K-9's named Hunter and Duke.

"They can detect COVID," said Capt. Paul Douglas. "Whether it's the Delta variant, whether it's the new Omicron variant."

The 14-month old labs have been on the job since late August. They've been going into town offices and police departments across the county tracking the scent of the coronavirus. Their special skill has also been utilized at schools in three districts - Norton, Fairhaven, and Freetown-Lakeville Regional.

"What we're finding lately," said Douglas, "the last three to four weeks, our dogs are actually indicating in areas, then like three to five days later we're finding out the person at that desk or whatever tested positive for COVID."

Duke led the way through Norton Middle School's auditorium Wednesday. Whenever he'd pick up on the scent, he'd sit. And he did so in front of a handful of seats.

covid sniffing dog
One of 2 COVID-19 sniffing dogs at Norton Middle School, Jan. 5, 2022. (WBZ-TV)

"They actually are much more sensitive than even the instruments we do the chemistry on," said DeEtta Mills. Mills is the director of the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University where a curriculum was created for training dogs to detect COVID. Mills says the idea was inspired by work the school had previously done with dogs to sniff out disease in avocado trees.

"The odor that they're picking up is basically the odor of sickness, right. So the trees were putting out a different odor because they were infected," said Mills. "People do the same thing. When you get sick you have a different metabolism taking place in your body so that changes the odor you emit."

Douglas says Hunter and Duke have been able to zero in on COVID throughout classrooms, on desktops, chairs, trash cans and keyboards. School officials are then notified so they can go back and disinfect those areas.

"It provides the reassurance that we're trying to do anything and everything that we can to protect ourselves and the children that are in these buildings," said Joseph Baeta, Norton Public Schools Superintendent.


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