It is no secret that dogs are our best animal friends. Maybe it is just because of the hundreds of years of breeding them to be man's best friend, but no matter what the reason, dogs have become the best companions in the world. They are sweet, loyal, and just so darn cute.
What is so amazing about dogs is that they have so many different skills. Think about the power of a sleigh dog, or the cunning of a sheep dog. They are able to do their jobs with excellent precision and intelligence. They might not be able to do math, but they are darn good at what they can do.
There are some spectacular dogs out there, like Air Bud for example, the basketball playing dog. He's fictitious, of course, however, that dog actually had to do those stunts. The dog in this story doesn't play basketball, but she does have a very special gift of sniffing out certain diseases.
Shugga is a Pomeranian rescue dog with a very important job. Twice a week she gets dressed in her favorite tutu and excitedly barks to get ready to play her favorite game, which is also her very important job. She has the task of detecting Parkinson's disease. In her training room, there are four canisters which hold t-shirts worn by four people, three of which are healthy and one of which who has Parkinson's disease. She always goes for the canister with the Parkinson's.
Her owner, Amber Chenoweth, says "She kind of just barrels through the room and goes right to the canister most times, and smacks it. It's winning the game that gives her so much confidence and makes her so happy." It sounds incredible - and it is - but it is something that certain breeds of dogs can do.
Parkinson's disease affects the nervous system and impairs movement. Pads for Parkinson's is a nonprofit from San Juan Island in Washington state that is training 21 dogs to help detect Parkinson's disease. The dogs are helping researching determine which molecules the dogs are detecting, that way scientists can find their own methods of early detection, as well as a cure.
Shugga's owner recently lost a friend to Parkinson's, so it is very special to her that she gets to help aid in preventing or curing the disease. She has been impressed with Shugga's work ethic as well as the work ethic and skill of the other dogs. Some of the other breeds include Jack Russell Terrier, Australian Shepherd, Mini Schnauzer, Labrador retriever, poodle, golden retriever, and dachshund. "I've learned every dog sees the world through scent and odor in a way that we can't understand because we, as humans, don't have the ability. And I know that any rescue dog sitting in a shelter could have this potential of doing this work if they were given a chance."
Maria Goodavage is the author of Doctor Dogs: How our Best Friends are Becoming Our Best Medicine." She has been going around the world to meet dogs like Shugga. She found that the best dogs were trained with positive reinforcement. "I wish that most people could love their job as much as these working dogs - these medical dogs - love theirs." Dogs have more scent receptors than us, making them much better at using their nose than us. ""They're detecting these diseases that until recently we didn't even realize had a scent. They can pick up many things around the world, like different kinds of cancers. So far, they've detected breast, ovarian, lung, bladder, stomach, liver, prostate and skin - a bunch."
This is breeding a whole new era of service dogs. Maybe one day there will be less people with fake social anxiety getting service dogs and instead actually putting these dogs to actual work.