Anneke passed me a great article in the Veterinary Times magazine recently, all about sniffer dogs and their new colleague, the sniffer rat. It is well worth a read, as you will not believe the progress being made by these amazing creatures. They have been put to work clearing landmines in Africa, among other things, and appear to be excelling at the task.
Apparently these rats are ideally suited to the job. They learn quicker than dogs, search faster, and don’t form the same social bond with a particular person that dogs do, allowing them to work effectively with any handler. They are able to search in 20 minutes what would take humans with metal detectors 5 days. They are also light enough so as not to set off mines when they cross them. It is hoped that these rats will provide the edge needed to start to get on top of the problem. And it doesn’t stop there. They are branching into the field of clinical diagnosis, and being used to detect TB. I know many people may not be fond of rats, historically, but they are incredibly versatile and can make wonderful pets. We are beginning to see more and more brought in to the practice as much loved family members and in all truth they are a delight.
It never ceases to amaze me what dogs, and now rats, are capable of. And who knows what other animals might find themselves making such a difference. Apparently pigeons have shown themselves to be adept at spotting cancerous tissue in mammograms, whilst Shetland ponies are making a name for themselves guiding the blind. Whatever next?