Dogs, Not Swabs, Test Miami Airport Employees for COVID

COVID-sniffing dog Cobra at Miami Airport

Last January, the Miami Heat became the first NBA team to use trained COVID-sniffing dogs to check for the virus before fans entered the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Eight months later, Miami is once again making history. This time around, the Miami International Airport (MIA) has put a team of these specially trained dogs to work, sniffing out COVID-19 in airport employees.

“We’re blessed in Miami-Dade County to have the first COVID-sniffing dogs, and it’s the first airport anywhere utilizing this type of technology in our four-legged friends,” Miami-Dade Commission Chair Jose ‘Pepe’ Diaz said at a news conference, CBS News Miami reports. “So, to us, it’s very important for us to grow the number of dogs that are doing this.”

Doing the sniffing during this pilot program are a Belgian Malinois named Cobra (that’s her in the photo above) and a Dutch Shepherd named One Betta. Both dogs are 7 years old and were trained at the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC) at Florida International University (FIU). The pilot program is a joint effort between MIA and GFJC.

Here’s how it works: At the employee security checkpoint, employees remove their masks so Cobra and One Betta can sniff the face coverings. COVID causes the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that people excrete through their breath and sweat. It takes about two to three months to train dogs to detect the scent of these VOCs.

If Cobra or One Betta indicate that an MIA employee has the scent, the employee will be asked to get a rapid COVID test, while the dog will be rewarded with playtime with a Kong toy.

Being sniffed by a dog has to be much more comfortable than having a swab shoved up your nostril, right? (That alternative is still available to any MIA employees who somehow prefer it.)

It may be just as effective, too: A July 2020 study found that trained dogs could sniff out COVID-19 in human saliva and respiratory secretions with 94% accuracy. One Betta and Cobra are even better than this. Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, FIU provost and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, told the Washington Post the dogs have amazing accuracy percentage rates of 98.1 and 99.4, respectively.

One Betta and Cobra have already successfully detected two COVID cases. One MIA employee tested positive after taking the rapid COVID test and the other employee was recovering from COVID.

Although these two dogs are both purebreds, Furton said any breed or mix can be trained to detect COVID. The two other dogs in the pilot program are mixed-breed “pound puppies,” he told the Washington Post.

If all goes well with the MIA pilot program, it will likely expand to include travelers as well as employees. And if that goes well, until COVID is finally eradicated, hopefully COVID-sniffing dogs will become a familiar sight in every major airport.

Photo: Miami International Airport

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!