Still “Serving” Us? Mutualism in Canine Scent Detection of Human Illness

In: Society & Animals
Fenella Eason Exeter Anthrozoology as Symbiotic Ethics (EASE) Working Group University of Exeter Devon United Kingdom

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Noting the human inclination to extend ability by “harvesting” nonhuman animal powers, there are calls for greater equality in the multispecies rendering of services. In this study, medical alert assistance dogs who coexist with chronically ill human individuals illustrate the possibilities of mutualism in symbiotic relationships. The dogs are trained to alert and are used in the scent detection of symptoms of hypo- or hyperglycemia in their human partners so that preventative treatment can be effected and unconsciousness or coma avoided. The canine-human collaborative partnership is based on the dogs’ keen sense of smell and cooperation to attain a reward. The article illustrates a cross-species embodiment of moral interdependence that extends the biomedical armamentarium.

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