LATHROP, Calif. - Olivia is a playful miniature pincher who only weighs three pounds, but her tiny nose packs a big punch. She can supposedly sniff out cancer with a 98-percent accuracy result before common cancer tests can even detect a positive result.
Olivia is part of California Canine, a research group of five dogs trained to detect cancer through urine samples.
So what makes dog noses so powerful? Dierdra McElroy, a canine bio-dog trainer and head of California Canine, says it's the 500-million scent receptors in their nose, compared to the five million receptors humans have.
"The part of the brain that analyzes those odors is 40 times larger than ours. They are just absolutely amazing,” she explained. “So, for example, one drop of blood diluted in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools -- parts per trillion -- is what they can smell."
McElroy started California Canine in 2010, training dogs to sniff out narcotics. But for the past two years she has trained Louie, Karma, Serious, Felony and Olivia -- all different breeds and sizes; some even abused and rescued.
She says they have performed the tests thousands of times with successful results and they are ready to implement the research into a hospital or doctor's office.
"We find that if we can just catch things earlier, more than likely pharmaceutical companies would have a super high success rate with their modern drugs."
But getting dogs into hospitals or clinics for trial work hasn't been easy. Barriers like insurance, liability, and research funds have slowed down California Canine and other cancer dog detection groups from furthering their work.
As for Louie, Karma, Serious, Felony, and Olivia, they are obediently waiting for a call from a local hospital or doctor’s office so they can get to work.