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Tag: detect

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

phelan

What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.

It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.

Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.

With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.

In fact, his  biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.

Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.

The same story is playing out in Washington state,  where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.

Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.

But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.

Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.

That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.

Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.

Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine –  can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.

In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.

Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.

In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.

Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.

“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois  who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.

Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.

His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.

And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.

Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.

Puppies in training to detect ovarian cancer

Two chocolate Labs and a springer spaniel are being trained to sniff out ovarian cancer at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a collaboration between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Centers, Ohlin and McBain (above) and Thunder (left) will use their noses to detect the disease in humans.

Ovarian cancer kills more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation.

The collaboration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.

Canines have been detecting lung and breast cancer for years. With an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, the new project will assess their effectiveness in sniffing out ovarian cancer, and continue an investigation that has been underway in Sweden.

The Swedish professor behind that project, who was using his own dogs for the study, is retiring. But he’s lending his expertise to those involved in the Penn project.

“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.

While the disease is often difficult to diagnose, ovarian cancer’s victims have a survival rate of 90 percent. No effective screening protocol yet exists to detect cases in the early stages.

In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients. The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists, computers and the puppies at the Working Dog Center, who will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in vented containers they can’t access, but can smell.

The dogs began their training at 8-weeks of age.

“They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction,” Otto said.

(Photos: Philadelphia Inqurer)

Dogs can detect prostate cancer, study says

A French study says dogs can sniff out signs of prostate cancer in human urine — a finding that could lead to better cancing-sensing technology, according to its lead author.

While some scientists have questioned similar reports of dogs with such diagnostic powers in recent years, French researcher Jean-Nicolas Cornu, who works at Hospital Tenon in Paris, said, “The dogs are certainly recognizing the odor of a molecule that is produced by cancer cells.”

Researchers don’t know what that molecule is,  according to U.S. News & World Report, but the study’s findings could prove useful in the detection of cancer, which often goes undetected until it is too late to treat.

Urine tests can turn up signs of prostate cancer, Cornu said, but miss some cases.

In the study, two researchers spent a year training a Belgian Malinois, a breed already used to detect drugs and bombs.

The dog was trained to differentiate between urine samples from men with prostate cancer and men without. Ultimately, researchers placed groups of five urine samples in front of the dog to see if it could identify the sole sample from a man with prostate cancer. The dog correctly classified 63 out of 66 specimens.

If the findings hold up in other studies, they’ll be “pretty impressive,” said urologist Dr. Anthony Y. Smith, who was to moderate a discussion on the findings Tuesday at the American Urological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

Students’ hard work foiled by thief

Students at Woodlands High School in Conroe, Texas raised $9,000 to help purchase a land-mine sniffing dog — only to see the money snatched by a thief.

Teacher Susan Hollier  said about 2,000 people from across the community attended a Woodlands High School walk and fundraising festival on Saturday.

Two student clubs — Interact and the Council on International Affairs — started working on the project in February, with hopes of raising $20,000 to pay for the purchase and training of a Belgian Malinois. The dogs are sent around the world to detect mines so communities in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam can use the land again.

Part of the money raised was also going to pay for a Woodlands High student to travel to Bosnia to see the dogs in action. The clubs’ project dog was going to visit the high school in May.

Around noon Saturday, though, a suspect grabbed a box of donated money from a student and ran, according to the Houston Chronicle. Hollier said all but $253 was stolen.

“It’s really just heartbreaking, especially when this one dog would save up to 10,000 lives in its five to seven years of service,” said Shelby Howard, 18, president of Interact. “It’s really hard to see all our hard work just taken from us in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to believe someone would go to that level.”

What are the clubs going to do about it? Start all over again, Shelby said. “We’re definitely not going to just let it go. This is a worthy cause.”

A likely story: Pot was for dog, suspect says

Police found two large marijuana plants growing in an Illinois back yard, but the man of the house explained he was only growing the plants to train his dog to detect the substance.

Officers, acting on a tip, showed up at the 31-year-old man’s home in Joliet and saw a marijuana plant growing behind a shed, according to a police report.  A woman who lives at the residence, the report said, allowed officers to enter the back yard.

Once inside, a police sergeant performed a field test on the plant that revealed it was cannabis. The officers say they then found a second plant growing in the yard, and a third one that was dead and lying on the ground.

When the officers called the woman’s husband on his mobile phone to inquire about the pot plants, he told them he had “a controlled substance license and was growing the cannabis to train his dog.”

Reached Sunday by the Herald News, the man initially denied having such a license. He did say he was training his dog to detect drugs, but then quickly added that he could not discuss the matter.

The buzz on Klinker, Md.’s newby bee dog

Sniffing out harmful bacteria in bee colonies is a full time job for Klinker — “our newest employee,” said William Troup, an apiary inspector with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

A black Labrador retriever trained late last year, Klinker is part of the department’s strategy to detect diseased bee colonies. Specifically, she’s looking for American foulbrood, the most common and destructive bacterial disease facing Maryland’s honeybees.

Klinker’s normal workday consists of walking along rows of hives. When she smells bacteria, she sits, alerting her handler.

A recent Washington Post story described American foulbrood as a bacteria that forms microscopic spores that can survive for decades, spreading quickly from hive to hive, killing bee larvae. If the infection is caught early, the hive can be treated with antibiotics. If not, the hive usually must be destroyed.

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