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Canines for Care

Canine scent detection program at Vancouver Coastal Health

Led by a multi-disciplinary team of medical professionals, dog handlers and infection prevention and control practitioners, Vancouver Coastal Health's (VCH) Canines for Care team is an innovative way to rapidly and non-invasively detect pathogens and reduce infection rates in health-care settings.

VCH was the first health-care organization in the world to operationalize its Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile) detecting canine program to detect and reduce cases of C. difficile in the health-care environment. Since 2016, the canine scent detection teams at VCH have searched thousands of hospital areas for C. difficile. They've also visited more than 30 Canadian health-care facilities to share their expertise. The Canines for Care scent detection program continues to evolve. Building on the strong foundation developed with the C. difficile scent detection program, VCH is now exploring canine scent detection for new and emerging pathogens including COVID-19.

Why use canine scent detection?

  • Enhance surveillance measures: a cost-effective method to rapidly detect and monitor contamination

  • Increase staff engagement: provide in-the-moment feedback and education based on real-time alerts

  • Improve practices: highlight and address gaps in cleaning and infection control practices

  • Reduce environmental contamination: decrease the transmission risk to patients and health-care workers

Services and support offered

C. difficile detection

  • We provide C. difficile canine scent detection services to hospitals in British Columbia and across Canada.

  • Rapid and accurate identification of C. difficile environmental reservoirs

  • Eliminate further contamination and downstream transmission

  • Fosters an ideal environment to partner with key site and unit stakeholders

  • In-the-moment staff education opportunities upon alert

  • Ability to track patterns and trends to move the dial towards a proactive approach that allows the time to be reallocated for patient care

  • Access to professional canine detection teams with hospital experience and knowledge in infection control theory and practices

  • Increased awareness of C. difficile among staff, patients and visitors

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is the most common cause of acute diarrhea in hospitals and long-term care facilities in North America. More than 60 per cent of C. difficile cases are acquired within health-care facilities. Reducing environmental contamination plays a key role in preventing the spread of infection to immunocompromised patients and health-care workers.

Canine scent detection for health-care environments

C. difficile is extremely resilient and, depending on conditions, can persist in the open environment for several months. The bacteria’s spores are resistant to common cleaning agents and hand sanitizers making them very difficult to eliminate. Special chemical disinfectants and protocols are required to eradicate C. difficile, but the challenge lies in knowing where the contamination exists in order to take necessary steps to keep our health-care facilities safe.

Identifying environmental contamination with 97 per cent accuracy

A multi-disciplinary team at Vancouver General Hospital has developed a program that trains dogs to rapidly and non-invasively detect environmental reservoirs of C. difficile with high accuracy. Since its inception in 2016, our canine detection teams have successfully searched thousands of hospital areas for C. difficile with most hospital units screened in less than 30 minutes. Each contamination alert is acted upon immediately and used as an opportunity for in-the-moment education for health-care workers, cleaning staff and patients. Alert data is also used to design and implement targeted local and system-level quality improvement initiatives.

Testimonials

"[Canine scent detection] is an innovative and exciting way to discover new places where C. difficile might reside. That way we can immediately target problem areas for cleaning and disinfection."

RD, Infection Control Practitioner, VCH

"Having our infection control practitioner attend rounds with Teresa and Angus helps us because we can ask more detailed questions about C. difficile, how it is spread, antibiotic utilization, etc."

JL, Patient Service Manager, VCH

"Having Angus and Teresa as part of our Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) team has a profound impact on our program and has impacted hospital staff in general in a very positive way. Angus is loved and respected "staff member "of the VGH IPAC team. He captures the attention of the hospital staff, patients, and family, and he is giving Infection Control great PR. Canine scent detection is providing us with a new type of environmental data that has not been readily available before. Nothing can replace the sensitivity of Angus's nose. Quick and swift action following Angus’s alerts is very reassuring to all of us who are striving to provide best patient care."

AIB, Infection Control Practitioner, VCH

"When Teresa & Angus walk through the units, they brighten up everyone's day! The environmental services staff enjoy working closely with them and are always interested to find the results of their searches so they can make sure there are no gaps in cleaning practices."

RR, Operations Manager, Crothall Healthcare, a division of Compass Group Canada

"We have truly enjoyed our yearly visits from K9 Angus. Not only is he well behaved and on point with the job at hand, he is clean and cute; he has a delightful personality that draws in patients and staff alike. His handler was responsive to questions, non-judgemental, knowledgeable, and thorough. They made the ideal pair.

Angus and his handler were part of a quality improvement idea to help eliminate risks of transmission of C. difficile spores by providing a means to educate regarding potential vectors. Both Infection Prevention and Support Services work tirelessly to find new ways to support housekeeping and staff with this important task.

Items identified by Angus as vectors for C. difficile included worn, cracked furniture as well as storage containers which were removed and discarded; it is impossible to clean these items. Additionally, tape and labels often used to help identify clean or dirty items or for signage were identified as sources, unless the proper removal of the adhesive was done.   

One of many highlights was the pride two young housekeepers felt after receiving a 100% pass from Angus on an ICU room they had just terminally cleaned.   

Currently, regional representatives from NHA are working with Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) on a new contract for hospital furniture. We now know the right material, construction and design of furniture makes it much easier to clean, disinfect, and destroy C. difficile spores, thus, diminishing transmission of C. difficile within our hospitals. 

Infection Prevention and Support Services are looking forward to Angus visiting four of our acute sites this fall."

Mike Hoefer, Northern Health Regional Director Capital Planning & Support Services

Deanna Hembroff, Northern Health Regional Manager Infection Prevention & Control





 

New and emerging detection

There is growing evidence that canines can detect microorganisms (including viral infections), and other medical biological-based scents including certain cancers, and there is evidence to suggest that their accuracy is on par with laboratory diagnosis. 

Building on the strong foundation developed with the C. difficile program, VCH is exploring canine scent detection for new and emerging pathogens to include COVID-19 odour detection. Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, restarting social activity requires systematic and innovative approaches to ensure public safety.  

VCH's COVID-19 canine scent detection program is evaluating the role of canine teams for enhancing COVID-19 screening to support the safe reopening of Canada's economy and to make the country more resilient to possible future surges of COVID-19. Canine scent detection rapidly, accurately and non-invasively screen for COVID-19 to protect health, reduce the likelihood of spread of infection, and promote public confidence.

What makes VCH a leader in canine scent detection of COVID-19?

  • Multi-disciplinary approach

  • Accessibility of clinical samples for training and quality assurance

  • Medical Microbiology lab experienced in safe preparation of odours

  • Expertise in medical biological canine detection services

  • Scientific expertise to objectively assess efficacy

 The Canines for Care team is lead by a multi-disciplinary group of medical professionals, canine detection specialists, infection prevention and control practitioners and, of course, canines.

Angus with his VCH employee ID badge Angus is an English springer spaniel trained to detect Clostridium difficile (CDI or C. difficile) in the environment Angus sniffing away Angus on the job Teresa Zurberg is a nationally recognized K-9 handler Teresa Zurberg with Angus Finn Yoki Yoki, Micro and trainer Lâle Left to right: Lale Aksu, Dr. Marthe Charles, Teresa Zurberg, Hon. Adrian Dix, Michelle de Moor with canine Finn K9 Dodger K9 Finn   Canine Scent Detection Specialist Teresa and K9 Fancy K9 Fancy Canines at play K9 Rudi  Canine Scent Detection Specialist Jamie and K9 Dodger  Canine Scent Detection Specialist Lale and K9 Traveller  


The Canines for Care team is lead by a multi-disciplinary group of medical professionals, canine detection specialists, infection prevention and control practitioners and, of course, canines.

Teresa Zurberg

  • Teresa Zurberg is the co-founder and program technical lead for VCH's Canine Detection Program and a nationally-recognized canine detection specialist. Her work with the canine team has been a regular feature in the international media, appearances in three books and two documentaries, as well as countless public appearances with her canine partners. As part of her work, she has contributed to several published scientific research papers that highlight the effectiveness of medical biological detection canines. Teresa has worked in the field of canine detection as a validated narcotic, explosives and patrol handler since 2010 and has been responsible for explosives screening at large transportation hubs, such as BC Ferries, at concert and sports venues, such as Rogers Arena for the Vancouver Canucks, as well as screening industrial warehouses for contraband.

Jaime Knowles

  • Jaime Knowles is a validated canine detection specialist who has trained professional detection dogs in explosives, narcotics and bed bugs for more than 10 years before joining VCH. She has vast experience raising and training both detection and patrol dogs. Jaime joined our team in December 2017 as both a handler and trainer of our talented canines and is Dodger's partner and handler

Lale Aksu

  • Lale has loved animals from a young age and has lived with assortment of them. Since moving from Germany to Canada 16 years ago, she discovered her passion for professional dog training. Owning several dogs of her own, Lale's favourite breeds are Manchester terriers and Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers. Her dogs have won multiple awards and championships in variety of dog sports like agility, rally obedience, scent detection and tracking. 

 

K9 Angus

  • Angus is a field bred English springer spaniel, born in 2014, who comes from a long line of recognized hunting dogs. Angus is trained to find environmental reservoirs of C. difficile contamination in the hospital environment. He is the first ever canineVCH employee and is an ambassador for the program. He has travelled across the country screening hospitals. Angus has been featured internationally in the media, appears in three books, two documentaries and has made countless public appearances with his human partner. Angus has become the furry face for the Canines for Care program.

K9 Dodger

  • Dodger is an English springer spaniel, born in 2014, trained to detect C. difficile in the environment. He completed his training in 2017 and is now conducting daily screenings for environmental reservoirs of C. difficile in many hospitals across the greater Vancouver area.   

K9 Rudi

  • Rudi, born in 2017, English springer spaniel who never stops moving and loves coming to work everyday. He thoroughly enjoys swimming, running, and trying to lick his partner's face. Most of all Rudi loves finding C. difficile reservoirs – it's his favourite game! Rudi has been a validated biomedical detection dog since October 2020 and was paired with partner Adam in February 2021.

K9 Micro

  • Bournepark Bobby (call name Micro), born in 2019, is a purebred Labrador retriever imported from the Netherlands. He was bred by Bournepark Gundogs, an internationally-acclaimed working kennel that specializes in breeding dogs for hunting and detection work. Micro was selected because of his intense hunt drive, desire to please and his eagerness to learn new tasks. Micro is being taught to freeze and stare at the scent stand to indicate the presence of a target odour. He has not previously been trained on any target odours.

K9 Finn 

  • Rockey's Invictus Huck Finn Gone Abroad (call name Finn), born in 2019, is a purebred English springer spaniel (Field). Finn comes from Rockey's Kennel (a highly-acclaimed field trial and hunting kennel) in Utah. Finn was selected because of his biddable nature, his intense search ethic and natural need to retrieve and possess. He has been taught a freeze and stare indication at the scent stand to indicate the target odour. Finn has not previously been trained on any target odours.

K9 Yoki

  • Yoki came to us from PADS as her career ambitions was more suited for a life of detection work vice being a service dog. Yoki is a black lab/golden retriever mix and was born in 2019. Her passions lay in ball chasing and anything that rewards her for food and thus makes a perfect detection dog.

K9 Traveller

  • Rockey's Invictus Travelling Girl Gone abroad, call name Traveller is from the hunting kennel Rockey's Kennels in Utah. Traveller was born in 2019 and is part of our C. diff detection team. When Trav isn't sniffing out super bug bacteria, she is working on her doctorate in archeology and regularly can be found digging four foot holes in the backyard for her explorations.

K9 Fancy

  • Rockey's Fancy, call name Fancy is from the well known Rockey's Kennels in Utah. Fancy was born in 2018 and is part of our C. diff detection team. She is a spirited girl and lives to work or lay on the couch and watch TV. There is no middle ground with this dog and she puts 110 per cent into everything she does be it searching or cuddling. Fancy is also the mother of Clan Invicta's first litter of future super sniffers.

 

Dr. Marthe Kenny Charles

  • Dr. Marthe Charles is the division head of Medical Microbiology and Infection Prevention and Control at VCH. She is a medical microbiologist and an infectious diseases specialist and has a MSc in microbiology and immunology. She has been involved with the Canines for Care team since 2017 and has published on the reproducibility of the training program. 

Dr. Eric Eckbo 

  • Dr. Eric Eckbo is a member of the Division of Medical Microbiology and Infection Prevention and Control and is a newly-hired medical microbiologist. He is in charge of the production of the various odors used in canine scent detection training

Dr. Elizabeth Bryce

  • Dr. Elizabeth Bryce is a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), has an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Regina and is dually qualified in Internal Medicine and Medical Microbiology. She has worked at VCH for 37 years, published more than 138 peer reviewed articles and held grants totalling approximately $6 million dollars. Dr. Bryce is the former co-founder of the B.C. Provincial Control Network and a former co-director of the Canadian Nosocomial Infection Control Surveillance Program. She is the co-founder of our canine scent detection team.


Allison Muniak

  • Allison Muniak is the executive director of quality and patient safety, infection control and risk management leading our VCH team in quality and safety, risk management, and infection prevention and control. She holds a Master of Applied Science, Human Factors Mechanical and Industrial Engineering with expertise in the design and execution of usability evaluations of medical devices, technologies, and processes. She has been involved with the Canines for Care program since its inception.

Kerry Campbell

  • Kerry Campbell is the regional project manager for Infection Prevention and Control at VCH. She holds a Masters of Health Administration (MHA) and Project Management Professional (PMP) designation. Kerry is passionate about improving the safety and quality of care provided to our clients. Over the years, she has partnered with a variety of B.C.'s local health authorities to support countless health projects across the continuum from pre-hospital through to community. As part of her portfolio, Kerry program manages the Canines for Care operations.

Alexandra Codispodi 

  • Alexandra joined the Canines for Care team in November 2020. As the program coordinator, Alexandra supports the day–to-day operations of the canine-handler partners, and leads the COVID-19 project. She has led projects in several public sector environments and holds a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) and a Project Management Professional (PMP) designation.‎


 

Frequently asked questions

For answers to frequently asked questions, expand the sections below.

Our training protocols and validation test were developed based on best practices from the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines (SWGDOG), and the National Detector Dog Manual, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. VCH has also adapted training protocols and validation tests to reflect the unique challenges canine detection teams will face when detecting C. difficile in hospitals. The validation process includes, but is not limited to, using a double blind testing format (as recommended by SWGDOG) along with the addition of an odour recognition test, and search capable test in the validation test. Additionally, VCH canine detection teams are validated yearly by an independent validator. 

 

We have trained and validated three dogs, and are always in the process of training more dogs.

 

The dogs do not differentiate between strains of C. difficile. Any C.difficile in the environment is undesirable.

 

We look for the right personality traits such as great work ethic, integrity, teamwork skills, willingness to learn, and aptitude for working in the health-care environment. All of our canine detection specialist possess a strong knowledge of how odour works, along with a strong understanding of their dog’s communication. Our canine detection specialist also have a minimum of two years of experience working with detection dogs as part of validated canine detection teams. They are also required to take and pass the VCH basic infection control course.

 

While all working breeds have proven themselves to be able to do detection, there are some traits in dogs that lend themselves better to this type of detection service in a health care environment:

  • Floppy-eared dogs instead of pointy-eared dogs, as they are less intimidating to staff, patients, and visitors.

  • Medium size dogs so they can fit into tight spaces, such as in between medical equipment and patient beds.

  • Dogs with exceptionally high drive and impeccable temperaments who have been professionally evaluated in a hospital environment

  • Animals that are in good health

  • Dogs that have not been trained to detect other types of odours

 

Similar to humans, dogs are more susceptible to contracting C. difficile from the environment if they are immunocompromised. Our dogs receive regular veterinary check-ups, and are only work in the health-care environment it they receive a clean bill of health.

 

We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from staff, patients, and visitors. As part of our program, our canine detection specialists also act as infection control and prevention ambassadors to increase C. difficile infection awareness and promote good practices.

 

Our canine detection teams do not search surgical suites, food preparation areas, neonatal units, psychiatric units, palliative care units, and offices outside of patient units. We also only search occupied patient rooms if we are accompanied by a staff member, and have permission from the patient. We do not search people, our dogs are not diagnostic tools but rather used to identify environmental contamination.

 

It depends. The amount of time it takes for the canine detection team to search a patient unit is dependent on the size of the unit, extent of contamination, and the amount of in-the-moment education provided upon identification of contamination.

 
 

Support Canines for Care

Canines for Care is generously supported by the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation with special thanks to the Rix Family Foundation and Peterson, and Health Canada.

Support Canines for Care and other health care innovations by donating to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation: https://vghfoundation.ca/give/canines.

Contact us

To inquire about the Canines for Care program, please email canines4care@vch.ca.





SOURCE: Canines for Care ( )
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