Search-and-Rescue Dog Finds Lung Cancer in Owner

As a search-and-rescue dog, Heidi works with her owner, Anne Wills, to sniff out missing people, pets, and things. Heidi has assisted the local police several times, including once locating a robbery suspect. She's helped almost 2,000 lost pets get home to their owners. But her biggest find yet happened in February when she sniffed something strange in her owner’s chest.

In the video below, Wills explains that Heidi, who also has an AKC Canine Good Citizen title, had begun frequently pawing at Wills' arm and burying her nose in her chest. She took Heidi’s persistence as a warning sign and saw a doctor. A resulting CAT scan revealed three cancer spots on her lungs.

“In this case, the dog diagnosed the cancer before the doctors did,” Dr. Enser Cole, Wills' oncologist said. Early detection is critical in treating cancer before it spread. “When [cancer patients] come when they develop symptoms, they typically have advanced-stage lung cancer that isn't curable.”

Dogs have long been known to be able to detect certain types of cancer in humans at earlier stages than lab tests. Scientists are continuing to study how dogs can be integrated into the cancer screening process in the future. For instance, researchers at the University of California, Davis started training two puppies last summer to sniff out certain oral cancers, and a study in Italy showed that canines were able to detect prostate cancer with a 98 percent accuracy rate.

Wills is now in remission, and she and Dr. Cole credit Heidi’s sharp scenting skills for her speedy recovery.

“It’s a testimony to Mrs. Will’s devotion to her dog, the dog’s devotion to her, the high training that Heidi has,” Dr. Cole said.

“She’s saved a lot of lives,” Wills added. “I just never thought that she would save mine.”

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