In the world of the lovingly kind
I’ve found myself caught in a bind:
Consumed by my hate
It made my gut ache
’Twas a matter far over my mind.
Of course I can always deep breathe
Whenever I’m starting to seethe
But hate’s the wrong path;
There’s just too much wrath,
So my ideals I tried to retrieve.
This effort is surely ongoing
The seeds of contempt could keep growing
As malevolent eyes
Ignore COVID’s new highs
And the pain in the streets’ overflowing.
But one thing I’ve learned is that thoughts
If dwelt on can leave one distraught;
Accept that they’re there,
Make space for more air,
And allow them to flutter aloft.
Thus I’ve moved beyond being whiny
And reduced trump so he’s quite tiny He’s gone from my head, I don’t hear what he’s said…
My plan, on Day Two’s, working finely!
And, because my inner critic suggests this reflection is self-indulgent when there’s so much grief in the world, I’m adding a delightful, gently philosophical video that I hope you haven’t seen before and I think is guaranteed to make you smile.
Its title: “Amazingly simple theory for a happy life.”
We often see them in airports, sniffing around for drugs and other questionable substances. Now, it seems, dogs are being trained to use their powerful sniffers (aka snouts) to detect the coronavirus.
How do they do it? First, let’s look at the dog’s olfactory advantage for this work. Humans have a mere six million smell receptors; dogs have as many as 300 million.
Dogs trained in scent detection can discern low levels of what are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in human blood, breath, urine, and saliva and have been associated with a number of diseases. I hope to write more about these fabulous pups and their detection of other diseases in the near future.
As to our urgent international need, here’s a sampling of some ongoing studies:
In the UK
They’re actually engaged right now in what might be considered the first step toward an airport version of a clinical trial.
There are six dogs, aptly called “The Super Six,” a combo of labrador retrievers and cocker spaniels. The premise is that the dogs will be able to detect the scent of the disease on asymptomatic travelers.
So our future may include appearing at the airport, suitcases ready, passports in hand, and then a cold little nose says, in effect, “No trip for you, buddy! You’re outta here!”
But as a dog worshipper, I can’t think of a happier way to help bring a worldwide pandemic under control.
This effort is backed by the UK government, which has donated funds to a research team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with Durham University and a charity named Medical Detection Dogs.
And the head of the research team, Professor James Logan, who also heads the department of disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, expresses optimism.
He observed in an interview with cnn.com that this work evolved from earlier research findings that people infected with malaria have a specific body odor—and “dogs can be trained to detect that with very high accuracy.”
The training involves dogs’ sniffing face masks and/or nylon socks worn by both individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 and those who haven’t.
Why nylon socks? Professor Steve Lindsay, a public health entomologist at the university, acknowledges that it’s a “bit strange,” but their experiences have shown them it’s “a really good way of collecting odors from people and it’s such an easy way to do it.”
In the US (Two Studies) [NOTE: SEE CLARIFICATION BELOW]
Similar research is being done at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet). Same premise: uncover asymptomatic patients, who are most likely to spread the disease. Also: focus on screening in specifically challenging environments for testing, such as hospitals or businesses.
In the Penn Vet study, which began with eight dogs, the dogs were first given saliva and urine samples from COVID-19 positive patients in a lab-oratory (spelled out and hyphenated to avoid confusion with this post’s stars!). Then they were given negative samples.
The researchers plan to begin testing the trained dogs with live humans in July. They’ll test both sensitivity—the ability to correctly identify those who have the disease (true positive rate)—and specificity—the ability to correctly identify those who don’t have the disease (true negative rate).
Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, professor of Working Dog Sciences and Sports Medicine and director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, is leading a multidisciplinary group across the University.
According to Otto:
“The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial. This study will harness the dog’s extraordinary ability to support the nation’s COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread.”
Another study, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State, bears the names of numerous authors. Involving 198 samples of axillary (armpit) sweat collected from various hospitals, the study was conducted with 18 dogs on three sites. It took the dogs between one and four hours to learn to recognize the odor and then four to ten hours to detect positive samples.
In a subset to demonstrate proof-of-concept, the researchers focused on eight dogs that had previously been trained to detect explosives or colon cancer and had now expanded their doggie resumes with this new specialty.
Their task was to pick out the positive sample from among negative or mock (made up) samples. After 368 trials, here are their percentages: four dogs scored 100%; one achieved 83%; another 84%; another 90%, and the eighth dog 94%.
All those percentages were deemed significantly different from what would occur by chance.
“We conclude that there is a very high evidence that the armpits sweat odor of COVID-19+ persons is different, and that dogs can detect a person infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
Perhaps, theorizes Annie the English major, that also means that armpit sweat can be added to the bodily substances cited earlier that contain volatile organic compounds.
And in Finland
This article’s title appeals to my weakness for bad puns: “The Finnish COVID dogs’ nose knows!”
At the University of Helsinki, researchers from the veterinary and human medicine faculties are working together. The first dogs have successfully differentiated between the urine samples of patients that have COVID-19 and those that don’t.
The researcher and DogRisk group leader, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, observed:
“We have solid experience in training disease related scent detection dogs. It was fantastic to see how fast the dogs took to the new smell.”
The preliminary tests have demonstrated that the dogs learned fast and worked fast, outperforming the COVID-19 tests based on molecular approaches.
But now comes the big step, prior to moving the scent detection into practice. They’ll begin a randomized double-blinded setting, “introducing them to a larger number of patient samples that are either positive or negative.”
And they’ll throw in a curve ball: some of the negative samples will have other respiratory diseases.
They foresee the many beneficial possibilities, which include identifying infected individuals in nursing or retirement homes, and screening health care workers to discern those who are actually ill, rather than just having been exposed, thereby avoiding unnecessary quarantines.
And, to bring us back to where we began, they’re also looking toward screening at airport checkpoints and other border points.
These are, as far as I can tell, all preliminary studies, with the Finnish study moving closest to peer review status, and the Penn Vet study ready to take a big leap forward in just a few weeks.
But with the dogged determination of researchers, trainers, and humans’ best friends, it certainly looks as though we may soon see a warm and fuzzy side of the successful efforts to contain this terrible pandemic.
Though most of these tests will be processed in lab-oratories, if you were in an airport and given the choice, which would you prefer: a large swab inserted into your nostril, or a tail-wagging canine circling around you once or twice (no petting allowed!)?
Warmest thanks and profound love to my daughter the professional dog trainer, par excellence, who suggested the idea and provided me with the articles that formed the basis of this post.
CLARIFICATION: The study I attributed above to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the US was based on an abstract bearing its logo. I subsequently learned that the study is, in fact, being conducted in Paris, at the Alfort School of Veterinary Medicine; Ajaccio, France, at the South Corsica Fire and Emergency Dept, and Beirout (sic), Lebanon, at the French-Lebanese University Saint Joseph.
Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”
“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”
“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”
In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.
I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us.
(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)
Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.
What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment.
“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.”
I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.
These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes.
It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.”
That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.
Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection.
These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)
.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.
But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts.
Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.” That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:
How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?
Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said.
Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.
When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.
I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire.
Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury.
The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)
Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.
But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.
(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)
So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity.
The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.
Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net.
We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.
It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”