Research at SIUC aims to protect K-9s

SIU professor researching working dogs

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Every day, first responders put themselves in harms way to keep us safe, and often times they are accompanied by working dogs.

When those animals are sent to the field, they can be exposed to harmful environments that can prove deadly to their health. Dr. Erin Perry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale is researching ways to keep them healthy.

"It's the chemicals that they come into contact with when they're searching through flood waters," she said. "It's the stress from working in those unfamiliar environments, it's the heat stress that occurs when they're working very long shifts."

Dr. Perry has seen the effects of working dogs coming into contact with these environments first hand as a handler for FEMA, Missouri Task Force One for the past 15 years.

The research is personal to her after almost losing an old partner, Pickles, after exposure to toxic chemicals searching for survivors of a bad tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

"We thought we had her clean," Perry said. "We gave her a bath. We followed what we believed to be the best decontamination protocols and they just weren't good enough."

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In the actual research, Dr. Perry and students take samples from dogs who have been in the field from their noses, mouth, paws, skin, etc.

From here she isolates harmful bacteria and other forms of DNA in those samples. From there she can determine what kind of treatment would be best for the dog.

She says these could be different diets, probiotics, shampoos, or whatever she can come up with to help decontaminate the animals.

But not all the research is chemical in nature, she says sometimes dogs simply get stressed out from being in the field, as well as getting there in long car, plane, and helicopter rides.

Sometimes in the middle of the night. To fix these problems, she says they think of ways humans can help them.

"We can change the way we train them and prepare them for those environments," she said.

But of course not every dog or every situation is the same, but Dr. Perry says any improvement is a good one.

"If we can figure out kind of an umbrella approach that takes care of what the dogs are exposed to a majority of the time, then we're at least moving the process forward and doing a better job taking care of our partners," Perry said.

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