Miami opens doors to fans with canine help

A K-9 handler standing with a dog that detects Covid-19 in people at the American Airlines Arena before the Heat-Clippers game in Miami on Thursday.
A K-9 handler standing with a dog that detects Covid-19 in people at the American Airlines Arena before the Heat-Clippers game in Miami on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI • Miami Heat fans were able to watch a basketball game in person for the first time since the pandemic shut down the National Basketball Association (NBA) last March - in part thanks to dogs trained to detect the coronavirus.

With the canine help, spectators streamed once more into Miami's American Airlines Arena before the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Only 2,000 were allowed, or just 10 per cent of the venue's capacity, as the Heat lost 109-105 to the visitors, who were missing All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the second straight game due to Covid-19 protocols.

A canine team guided two trained pups along the line of socially distanced fans waiting to enter the arena, and the dogs sniffed each person's hands.

"Dogs (screen) for drugs, so why not for coronavirus?" fan Kayla Roeber said.

"I think that it would prevent a lot of viruses from spreading, a lot of people entering buildings who have it."

If the dogs detect the virus, they indicate to their handler by sitting down next to the person.

According to the team's website, the potentially infected person and his/her companions must leave the line and are not permitted to enter the venue, while their tickets will be refunded.

"They can spot it (the virus) within seconds. Dogs are the most efficient mobile detection system," said Michael Larkin, vice-president of the Global K9 Protection Group, which manages the dogs.

"They are a living, breathing animal that has this incredible olfactory senses used across the world in a variety of environments."

On how the canines are trained, he added: "The dog is not going, 'Okay, tonight I'm finding Covid-19. They're playing a game... they've been imprinted to find this odour, and when they find it, they get rewarded."

Fans must still maintain social distancing and masks are required. The Heat are the first NBA team to try this screening method, which has been tested in airports in Santiago, Dubai and Helsinki.

Its reliability, however, has not yet been proven.

"I think it's so new and novel that we have yet to determine how effective it is and how reliable the canines are at detecting these type of things," Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, told CNN.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2021, with the headline 'Miami opens doors to fans with canine help'. Subscribe