(These are notable, true stories from the mainstream press. Whether heartwarming, funny, perplexing, or touching, they all serve to remind us how dogs are so entwined in our lives, and sometimes in unique and unusual ways.)
OK, we all know dogs rely on their sense of smell to interpret their world, in much the same way as people depend on sight. And it’s interesting to note why they do: a human nose has about 5 million scent receptors, while a typical Dachshund has 125 million. And a Bloodhound has around 300 million. It’s estimated that some dogs can detect odors at 1/10,000th the level of their owners.
Which may explain why Elvis, a 2 year-old Beagle in Kansas can smell pregnancies. Polar bear pregnancies to be precise.
Polar bears are an endangered species, and when kept in zoos, false pregnancies are common. The zookeepers make extensive preparations for the arrival of the cubs, so knowing for sure is important. And they need help: last year only 3 U.S. polar bears in captivity gave birth.
So Elvis was taught to recognize a protein in fecal samples that is only present when a polar bear is pregnant, truly pregnant
"We didn't even know if this was possible," said Matt Skogen, Elvis’ owner. But he was approached by Erin Curry, from the Cincinnati Zoo's Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife, and he was willing to test the idea.
Now Elvis is assisting zoos nationwide while maintaining an amazing 97 percent accuracy. But Elvis has never met a polar bear. Instead, he sniffs samples sent to him from zoos around the country, all of whom are anxious to know whether they can expect a little cub or not.
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