Wonder dogs: They can truly be man's best friend

Meet three dogs performing extraordinary jobs

ORLANDO, Fla. – Meet Brewer, Suzy Q, and Inspector Django, PI. On first glance, three seemingly regular-looking pooches, but each performs an extraordinary job.

A Dog for Diabetes

Eleven-year-old Jacob Whynot was recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Brewer, his two-year-old lab, is learning how to help Jacob keep his blood sugar at a healthy level. How?

It's all about his dog's keen sense of smell.

“We introduce the odor, and then we introduce the response,” Rock Galloway, owner of Central Florida K-9 said. In fact, most of the extraordinary things a dog can do like tracking humans, zeroing in on the queen of an ant colony, or even finding truffles, all tie back to their amazing sense of smell and picking up odors.

The odor that helps Brewer keep Jacob healthy comes from a mouth swab his mom collected and then froze when his blood-sugar was abnormal. Freezing the swab allows the odor to last up to about three months. Once the swab goes to the trainers, they use it to condition Brewer.

“He understands that when that odor is around he needs to alert me,” says Tracy Cooksey, the trainer working with Brewer. For Brewer, the alert is to put a paw on Jacob or jump up against him when he senses his blood-sugar is off. Galloway adds that training is simply a matter of do-and-repeat.

“Once that dog gets rewarded for that, he knows that that odor is a positive,” Galloway said. He added that some experts believe it takes about 1,000 repetitions to get a command permanently imprinted on a dog.

For Jacob's mom, Sancha Whynot, having Brewer around gives her peace-of-mind when she’s not with her son.

“To have a dog that is there with him at school when I'm not there, and to help him recognize when his blood sugars are high or at least tell him to check (his) blood sugar…for a parent, it’s unbelievable,” Whynot said.

Finding Our Way Home

Suzy Q is not your typical looking service dog. Suzy’s an American Cocker Spaniel, not a breed most canine schools would take on for any sort of training. 

But good things come in small packages.

“What Suzy’s been trained to do is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, find the way home,” her owner Anita Castiglia said.

But her skills also go much further: During more advanced stages of the disease, Suzy is trained to start barking if she feels a patient is wandering too far away from a caregiver, a good backup when out shopping or in any environment away from home. And if someone does get lost when Suzy’s not around, she’ll soon be able to find them as well. She’s at Central Florida K-9 working to become a certified tracker. 

But Suzy Q is not Castiglia’s first service dog.

In 1997, when Castiglia’s late husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, while doing research to better understand the disease she ran across a story about Alzheimer’s dogs in Israel. Fast-forward a few years and Anita had the couple’s dog named Chance trained to help keep an eye on her husband. As the disease progressed for him, Chance got more training and toward the end of her husband’s life, Chance was able to track him down if he ever wandered off.

“My dog kept my husband out of a nursing facility for ten years,” Castiglia told News 6, adding that having Chance enabled her to keep her husband at home.

“If I hadn’t had the dog trained, I could not have done it.”

A Nose for a Super-Sleuth

Inspector Django, PI was named after jazz great Django Reinhardt.

He’s a bloodhound and because bloodhounds have the best sense of smell of any canine breed, Django is being trained for a special job.

“He finds people right now,” his owner Gwen Bulinski said. But Bulinski adds “we have started him on tracking pets as well.”

That's right, a dog that can help you find other dogs.

“The idea kinda came from one of our trainers,” Galloway told News 6 after the staff saw reports last April of a therapy dog getting loose at Orlando International Airport. Galloway and the staff thought about how they could help find that dog, Scarlet, who coincidentally had just started training at Central Florida K-9.

The idea of finding people was one thing; when the staff suggested to Bulinksi that they train Django to help find lost pets, she jumped at the idea.

“If someone’s pet goes missing or service animal goes missing, especially when we have thunderstorms or fireworks, he’ll be able to track them down,” Bulinski said.

Images from old movies with scenes of a sheriff or police officer using a bloodhound to find a suspect in a swamp may seem like a cliché, but in reality, bloodhounds are simply the best tracking dogs on the planet.

Their secret: the large amount of cell membranes in their noses - 10-times more than most dogs and 40-times more than humans. A bloodhound’s ears also help it smell as they wave in front of the dog’s face and drive scents into their noses. And that “wrinkly” forehead of a bloodhound? It also helps as well as it traps scents in the dog’s folds.  

“It’s a little harder to find a dog or a cat versus a human who’s leaving skin cells,” Bulinski told News 6. “Dogs and cats don’t have the same type of trail as a human.” Bulinski elaborated: When tracking a pet Django relies upon the trail of an animal as well as the scent it leaves behind.

But tracking a pet still isn’t easy. “The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find a dog or a cat” she told us.  

About the Authors:

Lisa Bell has been in Central Florida since 2007, covering the big stories that impact our community. Lisa was promoted to News 6 evening news co-anchor in May 2014.

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise