The Covid-19 crisis has changed the way humans behave and socialise. It has changed the way we study and train. But the physical restrictions that have been put on us due to coronavirus has not been limited to just humans. Prolonged lockdowns and fear of catching the virus are also impacting animals like dogs, especially guard dogs who are an intrinsic part of many law enforcement departments today. In West Bengal, for instance, police dogs are being given a modified form of training than they usually received pre-pandemic to help train them and keep them in shape despite the lockdown.
The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has curbed the outdoor activities and practical training given to cop dogs. According to a report in the Times of India, Kolkata Police, which has a prolific team of about 40 sniffer dogs, has been worried about Covid-19 spreading among the handful of dog handlers and trainers that worked with the department. Kolkata Police’s canine department was previously in news last year after it said it will be inducting the dog breed that had helped the US Seal team track Osama bin Laden into its combat force.
The lack of outdoor drills, necessary not only in keeping the dogs fit but also in preparing them for real-world circumstances, has led the department to consider alternate types of exercises such as utilising a swimming pool.
An officer overseeing the operations told TOI that the department was looking at “multi-purpose" exercises to replace the traditional routine and the swimming fit the bill perfectly. “Not only will swimming be relaxing, but it will also fight high humidity and will be good exercise," the officer said.
Recent studies have shown that dogs can not only be trained as sniffer dogs to assist law enforcement but also medical researchers and doctors working with Covid-19. According to research published by the London School of Tropical Medicine, dogs can be trained to detect more than 90% of Covid-19 infections even when patients are asymptomatic, which authors hope could help replace the need to quarantine new arrivals. The dogs needed to be trained not to identify “false positives" in a bid to hack their reward system and obtain treats even if there were no Covid-19 samples in a given test.
However, police departments in India have also expressed concern about the health of cop dogs themselves amid the Covid-19 pandemic following reports of eight Asiatic lions testing positive for Covid-19 in Hyderabad. Telangana government, for instance, reportedly asked departments to ensure veterinarian check-ups of the nearly 200 police dogs working across the state.
Due to coronavirus, dogs across most police departments have also been following newer protocols that limit their interaction with crowds that may end up spreading the infection to them. In the case of crime scenes, most states like Telangana have been bringing in the police dogs at a time when crowds have been cleared to minimise contact between canines and possible carriers.
(With inputs from Agencies)