DARTMOUTH (CBS) – The Bristol County Sheriff’s office is adding a new tool to the department – canines trained to sniff out COVID-19.

The department says its four-legged officers can sniff out the disease in a similar way the dogs detect drugs or weapons.

The new K-9s will be in use starting Thursday. Bristol Count Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said it is the first law enforcement unit in the country to use COVID-detecting dogs.

“Bristol County and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have come so far since the pandemic started last year,” Hodgson said. “Today, festivals are happening, restaurants are full and concert venues are packed. We’ve made so much progress, and our new COVID-19 detection program is one way the people of Bristol County can stay ahead of the curve.”

Two dogs, Huntah and Duke, were trained to sniff out COVID-19, which the department said has a unique odor. A canine graduation ceremony was held Wednesday.

FCapt. Paul Douglas and his partner Huntah, and Officer Theodore Santos and his partner Duke. (Image Credit: Bristol County Sheriff’s Office)

The detection program was developed by Florida International University’s International Forensic Research Institute.

“This is all science,” Bristol County Capt. Paul Douglas. “This program was developed by professors, doctors and scientists at FIU, and we couldn’t be more proud or excited to execute it here in Bristol County.”

Douglas is paired with Huntah, a 9-month-old female black lab, while Officer Theodore Santos will work with Duke, a 9-month-old male golden lab and retriever mix. The dogs were born two weeks apart with the same father and different mothers.

“It’s best to think of it as a decontamination tool,” Douglas said. “The dogs can detect the COVID odor on a counter or table if it was recently touched by a COVID-positive individual, or even detect the odor on a tissue used by someone with COVID.”

The dogs are available for use at schools, town buildings, non-profits, nursing homes, Councils on Aging, public safety facilities, and medical facilities in Bristol County.

CBSBoston.com Staff