Program hopes to use dogs’ sense of smell to save lives

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Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 2:28 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 12, 2022 at 10:39 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A Birmingham-area program hopes to use dogs’ powerful sense of smell to catch cancer early and save lives. Cindy Roberts, a dog trainer, teamed up with Laurie Malone, Ph.D., a researcher, to create the Sniff-4-Life program.

“They can detect one drop of blood in a volume of two Olympic size swimming pools,” said Roberts.

Dogs in the current phase of the program train three nights a week with their owners in Vestavia Hills. Different samples of pet saliva are put in containers. The dogs are trained to sniff out the one with cancer.

“To use her senses that she was born with to do something amazing that potentially help other dogs in the future,” said Ashley McLure. Her 8-year-old Weimaraner, Margaux, is taking part in the training.

During training Tuesday night, every dog was successful in identifying the cancer sample. The hope is dogs can help catch cancer in the beginning stages, leading to early treatment and increasing the chances of survival.

“Our goal is that we can be saving other dogs’ lives by the end of the year and by just a simple saliva swab sample that can be collected at home by a pet owner,” explained Malone.

It’s a job the dogs enjoy, and a great bonding experience for pet and owner.

“She very much enjoys doing this, yes,” said McLure. “It is a celebration of a partnership with you and your dog. You know, you certainly do have to have a bond to understand her thought processes and to identify when there is a change in behavior.”

“Everything we do is positive based. They receive their reward when they find a cancer sample,” explained Roberts.

Right now, the program is focused on identifying cancer in canines. Everyone involved are volunteers and do not get paid.

“I think most of us that have been in this program somehow or another cancer has touched our lives in one way or another,” continued Roberts. “This will eventually develop into something for humans as well.”

The dogs taking part were selected for the program and have been through sniff training courses in the past. Sniff-4-Life is a part of the Sprout and Penny Canine Foundation. They do need donations for things like supplies and paying for the space to train. You can donate by going to or


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