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Are COVID-sniffing dogs the key to getting fans back in the stands?

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Posted at 1:25 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 13:25:30-05

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Dogs can be trained to detect explosives, drugs, human remains and much more. But could COVID-sniffing canines also be the key to bringing fans back to stadiums and arenas?

This week, dogs who have been highly-trained to detect the scent of the coronavirus will screen a limited number of fans attending Miami Heat games at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.

The fans will be brought to a screening area and the detection dogs will walk past. If the dog sits by a fan, that's a sign it detected the virus and the fan will not be allowed into the facility.

On Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers organization released a statement that said it will not be going down the path of COVID-sniffing dogs.

"The Cavs, Monsters, and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse continue to invest in the best systems, protocols, and innovative technology that makes the Fieldhouse one of the safest places to be in the state of Ohio," said spokesperson Phyllis Salem. "All COVID-19 health and safety measures have been thoroughly reviewed and approved by local and state health authorities, officially certified by industry-leading venue health and safety consultants and endorsed by the Cleveland Clinic."

Gary Broberg, a master dog trainer from Berea, has done work for the federal government and trained scent-detecting dogs used at tragic scenes, including the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City.

Broberg said he has reached out to officials with the Cavs, Browns, and Indians, encouraging the organizations to use dogs to sniff out the virus, but he hasn't heard back.

"I believe that you could fill up the stadiums again by just simply using dogs," Broberg said.

Broberg said dogs are learning the scent of COVID-19 in much the same way they learn to detect drugs-- through blind studies and sniffing several samples of different items.

"You have a number of airports throughout the world-- I think about 17 to be exact-- that are using dogs to detect COVID-19," he said.

Broberg said the key to accurate findings in Miami will be the handlers, not the dogs.

"You have to have highly-trained handlers to do this. They can't over correct the dog," Broberg added.

Lt. Neil Laughlin, the criminal patrol commander for the Ohio State Patrol Cleveland district, said OSP has five drug-sniffing dogs that work in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Summit, Stark, Medina, Ashland, and Wayne counties.

During a demonstration on Monday, troopers showed News 5 how quickly a 4-year-old German Shepherd named Titus could locate methamphetamine in the front bumper of a pickup truck.

"Their sense of smell is so powerful that they make things possible that would be impossible for us to smell," Laughlin said.

While Laughlin didn't offer an opinion on how effective dogs could be in detecting COVID-19 outside of sporting events, he pointed out that OSP's dogs are always learning and cracking cases.

"It never ceases to amaze me what they can do."

This story originally reported by Bob Jones on News5Cleveland.com.