The power of a dog’s sensitive sniffer is no secret. There are dogs at the airport looking for smuggled goods, and military dogs save lives every day by detecting hidden explosives. These dogs spend months, and sometimes years, learning how to detect specific scents. A lot of time and money goes into their training, but as it turns out, dogs don’t always need professional instruction to do amazing things with their sense of smell.
Stephanie Herfel’s Siberian Husky, Sierra is a prime example. Without any kind of scent training, Sierra used her nose to save Stephanie’s life.
When Stephanie went to the ER for pain in her abdomen, doctors told her she had an ovarian cyst. They gave her pain medication and sent her home. Stephanie was hopeful the ordeal was behind her. What she wasn’t expecting, however, was for her dog to make a diagnosis her doctors couldn’t. It started when Sierra started sniffing Stephanie’s lower abdomen. She told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
“She put her nose on my lower belly and sniffed so intently that I though I spilled something on my clothes. She did it a second and then a third time.”
After Sierra’s third round of extreme sniffing, the dog tried to communicate her thoughts in the only way she knew how. She seemed scared and confused, and she went into a closet and pushed herself all the way to the back. There in the dark behind the clothes, she curled herself into a ball and hid. That’s how Stephanie eventually found her, and it was obvious something wasn’t right. Sierra was trying to tell her something, and she knew she had to listen.
Taking Sierra’s reaction seriously, Stephanie scheduled a doctor’s appointment. Many tests later, she sat in an office as an oncologist told her she had stage 3C ovarian cancer, an extremely serious diagnosis. She needed a hysterectomy right away, and it was lucky they’d caught the disease before it got worse. Stephanie, however, knew it wasn’t luck that caught her cancer, it was Sierra.
Soon after the devastating news, Stephanie underwent surgery. It was successful, and she also started chemotherapy. She went into remission after an emotional and physical battle to beat her cancer. By April 2014, she was officially free of cancer and done with chemo. But her respite didn’t last long.
In 2015, Sierra again started acting strange. She sniffed Stephanie’s abdomen and did the exact same thing she did before. She went into her closet and hid. This time, Stephanie didn’t hesitate. Trusting Sierra’s nose, she feared the worst. Her worry came true as she learned the cancer had come back and spread to her liver. Once again, she beat it. And once again, Sierra’s sense of smell saved her life.
Some may say Sierra’s reaction was a coincidence. But in 2016, it happened for a third time. This time, the cancer was in Stephanie’s pelvic area. Sierra was three for three, and her incredible nose gave Stephanie the heads up she needed to keep fighting. Now five years after her original diagnosis, Stephanie is feeling great. She beat the odds, and Sierra is still by her side, always vigilant.
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Posted by Medical Detection Dogs on Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Not only could Sierra detect when something was going on within Stephanie’s body, she also showcased her unique ability around strangers. When Stephanie met with a friend who had a known case of ovarian cancer, Sierra sniffed and hid just like she did with Stephanie. When a handyman visited the house to remodel the kitchen, Sierra sniffed and hid again. In that instance, Stephanie contacted the worker’s employer to tell him what happened. With Sierra’s faultless track record, she knew it was her duty to let him know.
Sierra’s ability to detect cancer even before doctors is not as unique as it seems. Mankind is only now scratching the surface of what dogs can do with their powerful noses. An organization called Medical Detection Dogs based in the UK trains dogs to detect everything from malaria to cancer. One of their dogs, Lucy, has a 95% accuracy rating when detecting the scent of cancer. That’s better than some medical tests. The difference between Lucy and Sierra and is that Lucy went through intense training to get to her level of accuracy. Sierra, with no special training, does it all on her own. There’s no doubt Sierra is special, and the hope is one day, dogs like her and Lucy will be in hospitals across the country saving lives.
h/t: News 3, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Featured image screenshot via News 3
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