First U.S. Airport Brings In COVID-Sniffing Dogs To Detect Infected Employees

Two extraordinary pups are making history at Miami International Airport (MIA). Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd, are specially trained to sniff out COVID-19 in humans. The pair have put MIA on the map as the first U.S. airport to test COVID-19 detector dogs.

The pilot program is a partnership between the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, the Global Forensic & Justice Center, and Florida International University. 


“This pandemic has pushed us to innovate to stop the spread,” said Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor of Miami-Dade County. “I applaud Commissioner McGhee and the County Commission for thinking outside the box with this initiative. We’re proud to do everything we can to protect our residents. I look forward to seeing how the airport tests their skills and expanding the pilot program to other County facilities.”

Passing Through the Puppy Checkpoint

The COVID-19 detector dog pilot program at MIA began the last week of August and will run through the end of October. As employees arrive at work, they pass through a checkpoint where they remove their masks and dangle them in front of Cobra or One Betta. The dogs are trained to sit if they detect an odor related to COVID-19.

Both mixed and purebred dogs can be trained to detect specific scents. When it comes to COVID-19, they learn to hone in on the metabolic changes in a person that result in the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These VOCs are then excreted in a person’s breath and sweat, producing a detectable scent. 

If one of the dogs signals that he smells the virus, the employee is asked to take a rapid COVID test. If they test positive, they are sent home to quarantine according to CDC guidelines.


How Accurate Are Cobra and One Betta?

According to a report on the program from Miami International Airport:

Detector dogs have the potential for immediate detection and response to the virus in public spaces like airports. After hundreds of training sessions at FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami this year, the detector dogs achieved accuracy rates from 96 to 99 percent for detecting COVID-19 in published peer-reviewed, double-blind trials.

So far, out of 1,093 employees sniffed (about 136 per day), Cobra and One Betta have detected COVID in two employees. One of them tested positive on a rapid test, while the other was already recovering from the virus. According to Dr. Kenneth Furton, provost and executive vice president of Florida International University, the pair is 97.5% accurate in detecting COVID-19.


Familiar Faces

Fans of the Miami Heat may already recognize Cobra and One Betta from their stint as COVID-sniffing dogs at FTX Arena during the 2021 basketball season. Two other trained pups helped screen visitors, but the Heat decided to end their COVID-sniffing program when the COVID vaccine became widely available.

After their airport stint comes to an end in October, you can find Cobra and One Betta stationed at the PortMiami and Government Center in downtown Miami.

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