In this episode of Dogs with Jobs, we meet a diverse trio of talented detection dogs at the charity, Medical Detection Dogs. The charity has cancer detection dogs, malaria detection dogs and many other projects. 

Kate Fairweather talks to founder and CEO, Dr. Claire Guest, who gives a big picture view of the charity and its work, talking candidly about how her first dog, Daisy, detected her own breast cancer, and how this provided a catalyst for the charity, which is shortly celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Claire Guest sits on a red leather sofa with red labrador Florin, working cocker spaniel Asher and Iggy. She is smiling broadly and behind her are photos of more dogs on the walls.
Dr. Claire Guest with cancer detection dog Florin, cocker spaniel Asher and Iggy

Claire led the team responsible for the world’s first study of canine detection of bladder cancer, which was published in the British Medical Journal in September 2004. In a wide ranging conversation, Claire explains the charity’s work in the key area of bio detection (the other is medical alert assistance dogs, which will be the subject of a future episode).

Claire’s three characterful pet dogs work as detection dogs at the charity’s headquarters:

  • Florin is a red Labrador, whose detection work data is being shared with a research team at M.I.T. in Boston to help develop understanding and ‘map’ how a dog perceives “bio markers” – which means the subtle changes in scent that indicate the changes in a human body caused by cancer or other disease. The data is feeding into the creation of an effective artificial intelligence algorithm or “E-nose” for prostate cancer detection.
  • Iggy and Asher are rescue dogs, for whom life as a pet didn’t work out and who have settled since being given a job at the charity. Iggy the wire haired Dachshund is in training and has already passed his first round with flying colours. Superstar Asher started on malaria and moved onto Covid-19. (It is rare to be redeployed in this line of work and bio detection dogs tend to specialise in one disease for their whole career). Asher was shortlisted for Hero Dog of the Year at Crufts 2023 for his success in detection. 

Update: in the King’s Birthday Honours in June 2023, Claire was recognised for her work with an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Medical Knowledge, Public Health and Wellbeing. As we note in this episode, she started the charity 15 years ago based on little more than a hunch that dogs had plenty to teach us about scent. What a long way it’s come since then.

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