COVID-Sniffing Dogs Help Detect Virus on Surfaces at Mass. Schools

Three dogs at the Bristol County Sheriff's Office are trained to sniff out COVID-19, and they are making the rounds at multiple Massachusetts schools to help keep students and staff safe from the virus

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As schools across Massachusetts seek to keep students and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, some are enlisting the help of furry friends.

Duke the yellow lab makes the rounds of the auditorium at Norton Middle School, sniffing for COVID.

"A metabolic change in our immune system will give off an odor. That odor, the dog is able to detect, which is COVID," said Teddy Santos, a K-9 officer with the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, which has three dogs that can sniff out coronavirus.

The training was developed at Florida International University. DeEtta Mills says when they trained their first dogs in this, they got a 97% success rate.

"The thing that we wanted to make sure is to put the science behind it and make sure that the odor of COVID was different than somebody else that was sick with something else," Mills said.

The dogs in Bristol County are sniffing around 15 schools in the area. Blue tape marks where Duke detected COVID in the middle school auditorium, so while they are not checking students individually, they can find out who's been in the seat and contact that student's parents to see if they want a COVID test.

Norton Superintendent Joseph Baeta says having the dogs sniff people could scare the kids.

"I think having them go in and be known as a friendly dog and something that can be approached is much more important to the children," he said.

Staff we spoke with are behind this. Karen Giatrelis is the school psychologist, and she had a hit in her office.

"It makes me a little bit nervous, but I know that it's going to be cleaned and taken care of, so it makes me feel better," she said.

English teacher Joe Spremulli sees this as a step toward normalcy.

"It's really a priority to keep schools open, to keep kids here," he said. "We know that that's best for the kids, and we know that's best for us, for everyone. So any steps we can take to keep us safer are welcome, and I think are fantastic."

Three school districts, including 15 schools, are taking advantage of the COVID-sniffing dogs, and it costs them nothing.

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