Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Nose Knows

We train dogs to many different things like fetching a frisbee or even assisting the blind. But canines are most well known for their uncanny sense of smell. We use dogs to sniff out drugs and bombs, find survivors in disasters, and even help catch the bad guys - which is my favorite. I love watching Cops, and the perp is running for his life. The cops release the hoss german shephard, and the crook is brought down, usually begging for them to get the dog's iron-like jaws off of his arm or calf.

Sometimes, man's best friend is capable of sniffing other less obvious cancer.

Steve Werner of St. Louis, Missouri had been going to his doctor, complaining of his ears ringing and nervous panic attacks. Mr. Werner was put through several tests, all which came back negative. A month later, Steve's then 11 year old female golden retriever, Wrigley, would lay next to Steve's ear and sniff...constantly (Steve and Wrigley are pictured right, photo credit St. Louis Post Dispatch).

If it had been me, I would've assumed maybe I needed to clean my ears more often or something. But after nearly a week straight of this strange behavior. Steve suspected otherwise. "I realized she seemed to be focusing on something. At some point, I noticed she was always sniffing at the opening of my right ear. She would set herself up and intently smell my ear," Steve told The St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Steve happened to see something on TV about dogs being trained to detect tumors. Actually, I remember that show last year as well. I think it was on TLC. But Steve went straight back to the doctor, and an MRI revealed a nonmalignant tumor that size of a golfball had spread into Steve's ear canal - straight to his right ear. And of course, this was the ear Wrigley had been intent of sniffing for a week. If the tumor had not been detected in time, Mr. Werner could have had a stroke. He had the tumor removed just two months ago and is doing well.

So can dogs really smell tumors? And if so, how?

Scientists are currently training dogs to detect various types of cancer. While the work is still quite new, results are very promising. In 2003 British study, dogs were successful 41% of the time choosing the correct dish with the bladder cancerous cells. This was a far better rate of pure chance scoring at 14%. A dog's sense of smell is 2000 times stronger than a humans. And they can identify one part urine in 1,000,000 parts water. Very helpful when visiting the public pool. The belief is that cancerous cells emit certain chemicals like various alkanes that dogs are able to sniff out.

Last year, 60 Minutes did a report on this as well. Dog trainer Andy Cook worked with Bee, a cocker spaniel and a dog well known to the scientists involved in previous studies (pictured right). On camera, Bee was 60% successful in sniffing out the cancerous cells in a double blind trial.

Other studies include on in California by the Pine Street Foundation, where dogs are being trained to detect lung and breast cancer. Cocker spaniels and breast cells...sounds more like a Masters & Johnson research project. In California, dogs have been 99% accurate in finding lung cancer and 88% successful in sniffing out the breast cancer. And it's a rigorous study, which included 12,295 separate scent trials - each one documented on videotape. And at Cambridge University, researchers are working with dogs sniffing for prostate cancer. I wonder if that involved canines burrying their noses in guy's crotches. Ouch.

This discovering is amazing. Think of the life-saving potential these dogs carry. It makes me look at my own dogs, actually. Now whenever they smell my leg, I'm going to wonder if they detect cancer or something. But reading these studies has made me think more about my doggies and what wonderous abilities they have.

This is Ilsa. Ilsa is my 12 year old basset/beagle mix. She's named after Ingrid Bergman's character in Casablanca. She has the power to swallow little animals whole. I once witnessed her swallow an entire baby rabbit. I screamed for her to stop, but I was too late and I watched in horror as Thumper's little feet was sucked into my mutt's mouth. I have witnessed her also eating a mole, several baby birds, and what I think was a baby squirrel. In addition to her eating and swallowing skills, Ilsa also has the ability to squish and contort her body under tight my fence. Often times, I can be found wandering the neighborhood searching for her, screaming her name. I'm often in a frenzy, imagining her being runover by a car. When I finally manage to find her, she usually has dead animal breath. It always makes for an exciting morning bowel movement.

This is Snoopy. Snoopy is my 11 year old dashund/beagle mix. He is gay. That's what I believe anyway. This little guy has been through a lot, as he was left for dead by his original owner, and he himself had a tumor removed from his side just a couple months ago. Snoopy's uncanny prowess lies with his ability to bring out the beast from even the most docile creatures. Snoopy was torn to shreds by a neighbor's dog, when Snoopy lived with his previous owner, and he had to literally be stitched back together. Then, under my care, he was able to call wild racoons from their hiding places and attack us during an evening stroll. And one morning, he managed to summon TWO opossums and persuaded them to attack him and Ilsa. Although Snoopy has the power to beckon predators, sadly, he does not have the killer instinct himself. Often, he is either getting his ass totally whooped, or he stands idly by while Ilsa takes care of the enemies.

They can both howl very loudly when they hear a fire truck, but alas, I'm not so sure they can sniff out cancer.


Kay said...

My dog's main talent is doubling as a space heater. That little dude puts out some serious heat. Hubby also claims that he is a babe-attracting device, but I've never seen in action.

:P fuzzbox said...

They say buzzards have a keen sense of smell but they would probably be a bit traumatic for the patient.

Perplexio said...

Now I've got that old South Park episode stuck in my head...

"huh huh Yer dog's a gay homosexual huh huh huh."

However also on the subject of South Park, while these dogs may not be able to detect a tumor I bet they could tell right off the bat that pig & elephant DNA just don't mix.

Meagan said...

You'd better keep Ilsa away from Poco!

kim said...

My dog is an AWESOME alarm clock. If you need to get up at 6am every day.

I love beagles and yours are no exception to the super cute beagle rule!

Curare_Z said...

I've heard about this thing with dogs. It's so cool.

And your dogs are adorable. I love my dog. David Amulet thinks he's gay because he doesn't raise his leg to pee and never did start humping before we fixed him.

AndrewE said...

Thanks for dropping by Desperate C. I'm glad I was able to come across your site as a result of those link exchanges.

On the subject of dogs, I've always admired well-trained dogs but I can't say i'd want one of my own. Personally I grew up with cats, and although it's more difficult to train a cat, it can be done. The proof is our own cat lived alone for 3 months once when we went away. We trained him to get food from a large home-made feeder. 3 months later when we returned he was waiting in the drive, right as rain!

ozymandiaz said...

Sounds like your Ilsa and my Ginger have much in common. Ginger has a very distinct philosophy when it comes to food; swallow first, sniff later (presumably when it comes out the other end). Her is what grosses me out, dogs have a sense of smell 2000 times more acute than that of humans (as you have stated) and we know that most of the flavor we experience when we eat is actually comprised of smell being that the tongue only has four types of receptors (bitter, sweet, salty and uh, ah hell I forgot the fourth one...anyhow) and I presume dogs are the same (are they?). What I'm getting at is the cat poop that Ginger eats is pretty friggin' foul smelling to me which means it must taste horrendous and I haven't anywhere near the olfactory senses of a dog so how in the hell can that taste good?

KC said...

I saw a story about cancer-sniffing dogs on CNN last week. Amazing that they can do that. But like you said, Phoenix, now I'll always wonder if I've got a problem anytime a dog may sniff me. Probably don't need to worry about that too much, as I don't have a dog.

LostInTX said...

Your dogs are soo funny and cute! I'm sure snoopy's not gay, he's just not as masculine as you want him to be. :) Poor little guy, he's so cute. And as for Ilsa, that's disgusting... I used to have bassets and mine never ate small animals. Yuck. I think my female ate her own crap once. That made for nasty breath too. Although recently I saw my friend's basset eating a deer leg she found out in the yard. Maybe this is a new breed of bassets.. ooh, sounds like some research needs to be done.

Sherri said...

Awwww..... I love your dogs! So cute!

Hank, our rotwieler, is know for his lovable demeaner. (seriously) When the propane man comes to fill up the tank, he always asks "where's baby?"

Rufus, beagle retreiver mix, is indestructable.

Mimi said...

I am a dog lover. And this really is amazing. I can't imagine what cancer would smell like.

I have a beagle. She has a broken tail that happened sometime before we got her at 7 weeks old. She is afraid of EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.But boy does she have a sniffer. I put her outside when I know company is coming so she doesn't bark. I let her in when they leave. And she barks for hours while pacing everywhere they were in the house.

The Phoenix said...

kay, your dog can keep your feet warm in the winter. I have the same device as your hubby, but I think it's accidentally set on "repel."

fuzz, Good call. If you're out wandering the wild, and you see buzzrds circling you - they might know something you don't know.

perplexio, I love that episode. I have commanded Snoopy on many occasions to "not be gay."

meagan, Yeah, gotta be careful. She won't chew Poco, just swallow.

kim, thanks. So you dog has the power to consistently wake you at 6 AM. That would only be tolerable if he could make you breakfast too.

curare, I think David might be right. Snoopy doesn't raise his leg either. I think he believes it's too manly.

andrew, I have never heard of a cat being so well trained. We need to get it on video.

ozy, maybe it's a case where it smells so BAD it tastes good?

KC, you need to get a dog then!

lostintx, what's up with bassets and eating everything? I too have caught her chewing on what I think was part of a deer also. Not sure what part, not sure I want to know.

sherri, I try to be nice with all rotwielers. Those things could actually swallow my head.

Bruce said...

Dogs are simply amazing. I had a black lab, named Max, who could tell when I was sick. He would come to me and lay his head on my lap, look up to me as if to say, "You'll be ok, daddy. I'm here." The day he died, I had planned on taking him in to be put down, because he was detriorating rapidly. But, true to his nature, he didn't want me to go through that, and 15 minutes after I got home from work, he passed away. I know in my heart, that he waited for me; wanting to be with me when he drew his last breath.

Phats said...

Aww I am a sucker for a cute dog. They are amazing animals, love dogs

Snoopy is cute, what a tough little dog!

mrshife said...

So Ilsa is a bagel, and Snoopy is a little trooper. Good to know that he is doing better and in a loving home. Pretty cool about the dogs. My fat basset has a great nose but he doesn't sniff me too much so I guess that is good. And Quincy howls every time the phone rings.

Jamie Dawn said...

Casablanca is one of my favorite movies! I'm glad you named your doggie after Ilsa.

Snoopy is so cute. He obviously attracts abuse for some reason. Poor fella. It's good he's got big, bad, carnivorous loving Ilsa to defend him.

The wonders of canines have no end.
How come cats are never doing anything wonderful for humans?

Spider Girl said...

I had never heard of cancer-sniffing dogs before--that is really fascinating.

TNChick said...

I love dogs. My ZOey is a sniffer... but she is a hound and all hounds are like that. I never knew dogs could catch a whiff of cancer! Wow.

Karen said...

Oh goody, a story about doggies; now you've really got my attention!

I saw that 60 Minutes story on can dogs really smell tumors. It was amazing, but then dogs are.

Snoopy & Ilsa are very cute. Isn't it wonderful how they offer unconditional love.

Jillian said...

Yeah Phoenix I was actually reading about a week ago about this cancer smelling dogs. Some dogs are actually used to "diagnose" lung cancer patients (although you allude to this in your blog entry, I thought I would let you know even if you already do) :-)

Very cool.

delmer said...

Every dog I've ever been around has checked me for testicular and rectal cancer. So far I've come up with a clean bill of health.

We had a black lab that used to do a pretty good job keeping the yard free of ground hogs.

Tan Lucy Pez said...

The dogs are adorable.

I've heard that about dogs smelling cancer before. I wonder why the medical profession isn't training dogs with this in mind.

You didn't say why you think Snoopy is gay. I hope it's not just because he's mild-mannered. But the best-looking guys are often gay, and alas, Snoopy is a handsome guy. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Metal Mark said...

The dogs are a lot better to look at then the maggots from the previous post.

Denny Shane said...

This is very much like the story of my pet cat and ex-wife #2. The first time she stayed over night when we came out into the living room the next morning we discovered the cat ummmmm peed in her high heels.

Talk about pissed. I thought the cat was a goner right then and there. To make a long story short. I should have kept the cat.

Etchen said...

I saw that report on 60 minutes, but it was awhile back. I also have read several article on the canines identifying cancer and it seems to be just incredible. I'm unsure of why more scientists are not researching this as it seems a very viable and credible way of identifying it in it's early stages.

Happy Easter!

Meagan said...

I agree Metal Mark--I was hoping the maggot story wouldn't stay on top for long!

Fuckkit said...


I'm sorry, the girlish streak in me surfaced for a moment there.

Jim said...

the dog has to have just the right temperament -- if the dog is too independent, he/she will just think "fend for yourself" -- if the dog is too passive, he/she will think "how does this affect me" -- in most instances, this would mean the doggie would have to have better mental balance than the owner (at least among the people that I know) --

-- I'll pay Ilsa $10 for every mole in my yard that she eats,$25 for each gopher

Reiki said...

just wanted to wish you a happy easter

Phats said...

Hey I listened to your podcast on the bird flu! That's cool man, welcome to 2006 Phats :) haha.

The bird flu still creeps me out. The start of your podcast is a little scary as well, nice job!

the weirdgirl said...

Are you sure Snoopy isn't just calling down baby animals for Ilsa to eat? Maybe all the attacks are from irate animal parents. (Of course, they are both so cute all pimping of baby animals or eating thereof can be excused, right?)

Just don't ever take Snoopy camping! There was an unfortunate incident with my in-laws and camping, featuring an aunt, her poodle, and a coyote. I spare you the grusome details.

Cari said...

I want my dog back...:(

They truly are amazing..

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

My dog, Jezebel, has the uncanny ability to know EXACTLY when the best part of a movie is coming up. She decides right then and there that she has to go out and pee. Of course, when I get her to the front yard, it takes her roughly twenty minutes or so to find JUST the right spot.....:)

Gotta love 'em though...your pups are adorable! :)

DaBich said...

Hey, I have two bassett hounds. One is full blooded and is 14 years old, the other is 3/4 bassett and 1/4 beagle, and is 11 years old. They are babies (my fault I am sure lol).
Dogs are wonderful creatures, offering unconditional love, loyalty, and now....cancer-detecting abilities! Gotta love dogs!

Dirk the Feeble said...

Bwa-ha-ha-ha, you admitted to watching TLC!


Oh, uh, and cool bit about the dog thing, too.

Will said...

Dog's are talented creatures (some at least), but I've always been a cat man myself.

Grafs said...

I had heard about this before. To be honest, I'll leave that sense of smell to the dogs. The smells in a hospital warrant leaving your nose at home. Code brown!

angel, jr. said...

I read something about dogs sniffing out maladies and illnesses somewhere too.

thephoenixnyc said...

That is an absolute;y amazing story. Thanks for sharing it.

FantasticAlice said...

I personally like it when the crooks get tasered on COPS, -the boy-toys fav show I might add (go figure) the two of us WILL be going to Vettes this Friday evening now that he is off the H.A.

My dogs talent.... eating poo.

FantasticAlice said...

And I do pity the homosexual dauschsand of yours....not because it is a gay dog but after reading perplexios comment all I could think of is sticks and stones will break the poor doggies bones...


Keshi said...

**And at Cambridge University, researchers are working with dogs sniffing for prostate cancer. I wonder if that involved canines burrying their noses in guy's crotches. Ouch.

Whoaaa lollz!!

Dogs have the 6th's amazing what they can 'sense' that we cannot..


Jennifer said...

I've heard of that actually. Recently there was a story on the news about a woman whose dog was always pawing at her boob. She was an elderly lady and finally she went into get it checked. Sure enough, breast cancer.

Our old dog was excellent at feigning idiocy.

Big Pissy said...

I've heard about this ability some dogs have. I think it's amazing!

I think your dogs are too cute! Snoopy looks like he's sooooo innocent! ;-)

BrianAlt said...

If a dog can sniff out prostrate cancer, it's welcome to sniff my crotch.

At least Snoopy has Ilsa. Dogs were bred to kill small animals, especially rodents.

The Phoenix said...

That's why my hounds are built low to the ground...lets them get under brush so they can catch the vermin.

phlegmfatale said...

I do love me some dogs. They are superior beings.

ObilonKenobi said...

My god, your dogs are crazier than you. I gues that dogs do take on their owner's traits. Or vice-versa.

I had heard about the cancer sniffing dogs on TV as well. That's amazing. the power of the pooch always fascinates me.

My dog did nothing except eat and poop. Usually on my rug. He also barked really loud when people came to the door and scared my niece. He was once acused of killing a cat but the evidence was all cricumstantial (he was int he same location and chased A cat but not THE cat as the owner claimed.)

Unfortunately he had developed cancer himself and began acting strangely. A little too late we realized his personality changed and he bit a girls in my house. It was very tramatic for everyone and KC had to be put to sleep.

He was a very good dog and I probably won't get another one for a very, very long time.

OK. Sad time is over...

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