I have written before about how blessed I am to teach Science at LMS and have animals in my classroom. I’ve seen many examples of how interacting and petting an animal can help calm students and help me connect with them. The benefits of caring for an animal are well documented. There are countless examples of how caring for an animal builds empathy for humans even in those with the hardest of hearts. Today I’d like to focus on how animals can be more than companions.
In my class I think it’s important to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries and pass these along to my students. I admit I cannot resist reading studies and stories about how animals have contributed to the health and welfare of us humans beyond being superlative companions. One amazing example of this is about how scientists have trained dogs to sniff out the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma. Most of us have heard how a dog’s sense of smell surpasses humans by leaps and bounds. Cancer cells give off different waste products than do healthy cells in the human body. In fact, the difference is so dramatic that dogs are able to identify cancerous cells even in early stages of cancer. Studies have proven that some dogs are able to identify cancerous lesions simply by sniffing a patient’s skin. Researchers have proven that some dogs can detect prostate cancer by simply sniffing a patient’s urine. In addition, researchers have shown dogs to be able to sniff out cancer from a patient’s breath.
Recognizing an impending seizure is another way dogs contribute to human’s health. Even untrained family pet behavior has been documented to change and become protective before a family member has an epileptic seizure. Many people, who suffer from seizures, have a trained dog in their family to alert them of an oncoming seizure. Scientists believe that is it mainly a dog’s advanced sense of smell that allows them to detect something is wrong. The human body is believed to give off different odors before seizures. Of course, as humans, we cannot detect these differences but our canine friends can. They are also better at detecting subtle changes in human’s faces and behavior that occur before a seizure.
Of course, sniffing out changes in a human’s health is not the only way that a dog’s fantastic sense of smell can contribute to our well being. Consider all the bomb sniffing dogs in war zones, dogs that work at public events to detect bombs before detonation, and even the drug sniffing dogs that visit our school occasionally. I certainly don’t want to forget our feline friends. While they do have a stronger sense of smell than humans, it can’t compare to canine abilities.
I marvel at the abilities of the animals we interact with on a daily basis. Our canine friends especially enrich the lives of those of us who are blessed to have them. While not every critter detects cancer as far as we know, most do provide a invaluable aspect of unconditional love to our lives.