austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

But I've noticed something strange

Maybe you've heard about this thing where dogs are used to smell cancer in humans. Maybe you've just heard about this now, but I'm pretty sure I've heard about this before. It's a peculiar thing for me to just imagine. But I'm fascinated without really understanding. I'm basing my mental model on my father's dog my father, who spent most of her time sitting under the kitchen table licking her lips and wondering why food never seems to fall through the glass table. She was a very good dog, and as a full-size Labrador retriever loved being picked up for the novelty of it, but none of this made me think of putting her to medical applications, which is probably why I had no hand in pioneering this technique.

It doesn't seem like the ability of dogs to sniff out cancers would be one that you'd notice by accident. Just because a dog did sniff insistently at some part of a person would you think to look for anything past a previously undisclosed patch of peanut butter? It's a basic principle of diagnosticianing: when you hear hooves, think peanut butter, not horses. I don't know what they're supposed to do with that thought, but I didn't go to medical school. Maybe a few dogs would figure it out and do their best to warn people, but that probably just got the dogs' heads scritched.

This reasoning implies these dogs did go to medical school. Maybe they didn't take a full doctor's curriculum and then take a residency, which all together could take over 104 dog-years, since we need physicians before the year 2112. (We'll need them after, too, so don't think I'm picking on any year except 2112.) But there had to be some kind of training, so either the dogs thought to volunteer themselves --- in which case we have to admire their humanitarianism unless that should be hudogitarianism --- or some human thought to put them into the program. I'd hope they were asked. I wouldn't want to be diagnosed by a resentful spaniel.

So let's assume the dogs were asked. How would you bring that subject up with a dog? ``Boy, it's fun wrestling you for control of a frisbee. Say, would you like to sniff out potentially life-threatening diseases?'' It seems like a big favor to ask and I don't know how you build up to that. Maybe someone who wasn't cripplingly shy would find it easier. Many dogs seem like they'd be happy to help anyway. I bet there's a couple that knew what the conversation was about before anyone said anything. Maybe it depends whether the cancer signs smell good.

Granting that we've got dogs to do this for us: were other animals considered but ruled out? I could imagine asking cats, only to find that their diagnostic method is to stretch out, yawn, sniff at the vicinity of a suspect organ, and then swat someone. Those results would be hard to interpret. Or what if the idea was to have trained goldfish pointing things out? You'd need to get healthy-sized aquarium tanks in the examining rooms, and solve the problem of getting that crinkly examining paper to fold up into a usable temporary bathing suit for patients. But it would give us an almost unparalleled opportunity to learn who among us is afraid of fish. And of course a team of trained horses is right out due to the difficulty in getting three or more together in a normal examining room, particularly if they have to take the elevator into the building. I'd be tempted to get a few horses up there anyway just to live out the old joke about the horse in the boarding-house bathroom, but that's a lot of bother to go to just for that.

The dogs have got to be rewarded for their services; I wonder how. Suppose the dog finds a cancerous spot: would anyone want to say ``Good dog!'' for the information? It feels like after saying that there'd be an awkward silence.

Say, you don't suppose we're all signed up to smell out health problems in dogs, do you?

Trivia: Robert McCullough reportedly spent about half a million (United States) dollars on the 10 October 1971 dedication ceremony for the transplanted (Rennie) London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Source: Old London Bridge: The Story Of The Longest Inhabited Bridge In Europe, Patricia Pierce.

Currently Reading: Semantic Antics: How And Why Words Change eaning, Sol Steinmetz. Hey, Ian Shoales gets a citation in it for his use of the word ``repugnant''. I'll have to write his blog to tell him.


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