010621_MNS_COVID_dogs_001 Marshall the dog Julian Allard Macy Allard Mike Allard Sandy Allard

With COVID-19 dog Marshall are, front from left, Julian Allard and Macy Allard and, back from left, Benton House Senior Living CEO Mike Allard and COO Sandy Allard.

You may have heard about drug-detecting dogs, but what about COVID-19-sniffing canines?

Well, they do exist, and Decatur-based Benton House Senior Living and Milton-based Canine Assistants are partnering to place the virus-detecting dogs at five metro Atlanta assisted-living communities: Decatur, Grayson, Newnan, Sugar Hill and Woodstock.

If the program goes well at those five locations, the two organizations plan to expand it in 2021, including adding new ones in Georgia and other states, as well as expanding the dogs’ scent recognition capacity to include other common health concerns.

The idea to partner came after Benton House CEO Mike Allard read a news article about COVID-detecting dogs being used at international airports.

“I was impressed with how quickly the dogs learned to detect the virus, some in just a few days, and how the accuracy rivaled current nasal pharyngeal testing percentages,” Allard said in a news release.

Having previously donated to Canine Assistants, he called founder Jennifer Arnold to see if she would be interested in developing a program in the United States. He was pleasantly surprised to hear she already had similar thoughts and even started some initial trials.

Dogs identify the virus via sterile swabs used to collect sweat samples from test subjects. Trials are expected to take place over the next several weeks with the hopes of placing dogs in their new homes early in 2021.

“We think our communities are perfect for this type program,” Allard said. “The testing the dogs do will be in addition to, not in place of, our other testing protocols. The extra layer of protection is just one more way we can serve our residents and team.

“Best of all, the dogs will live at the communities and just be part of the family. So, we not only get the benefit of additional testing, but we also get a unique new community resident.”

Arnold added, “We’re excited to be a part of this initiative. For years we have seen the benefit of dogs’ uncanny ability to alert their people to pending seizures or changes in blood sugar. We’re excited to expand the detection protocol to include the SARS-COV-2 virus and, hopefully, other infectious agents that may pose health risks such as influenza and MRSA. It takes a forward-thinking organization like Benton House to make this possible and we’re proud to have them as a partner.”

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