Dogs are great. Although I had never thought to own a pooch due to time constraints and general selfishness, I do not deny purposefully befriending dog owners just to hang out with their pets.

But things have changed.

Contrary to suspicion, it is not the aging, biologically-driven desire to shelter and care for others that is causing me to reconsider owning a hound. It's quite the opposite, really -- I am simply looking to be cared for.

Dogs have been famous for saving their owners in the event of an emergency. From calling 911 and reporting fires to dragging owners from oncoming trains, it seems as if dogs truly deserve the title of man's best friend.

Training pups for their amazing sense of smell is another perk to having a mutt around. This is especially true in the workplace. Research in animal physiology suggest that a dog's muzzle is more than 10,000 times more sensitive in perceiving odors than the capabilities of a human nose. It is no wonder then why police departments have successfully trained canines to detect illicit drugs through smell.

These past few years, a slew of scientific journals have pumped out several cases of dogs performing sensory feats within the field medicine.

Just this month, the British Medical Journal released a study showing that canines can accurately sniff out one of the most problematic hospital-acquired infections of our time. Clostridium difficile is a bacterium known for causing intractable diarrhea, abdominal pain and even ruptured bowels in an afflicted patient.

Researchers in the Netherlands trained a 2-year-old beagle to sniff out the baneful bug in infected feces and patient rooms. When challenged with a series of infected and non-infected samples, the pup was able to correctly identify 100 percent of infected stool and 98 percent of all uninfected cases. If follow-up studies maintain this accuracy, the integration of canine surveillance of Clostridium difficile in a hospital setting may not only prevent patients from being diagnosed late in the disease course but also may indirectly shave off significant diagnostic expenses from patients' hospital bills.

German investigators put dogs on another medical task, this time identifying lung cancers by scenting organic compounds in the breath of affected patients. Lung cancer in this study was correctly detected in 70 percent of all patients afflicted with the disease. Importantly, these clever canines were able to identify 90 percent of unaffected patients as not having lung cancer. Although not providing the diagnostic accuracy that I would be comfortable with utilizing in patient care, this study gives further evidence to a dog's promising value in the field of medicine.

As a man who assumes the community role of a health care provider and the personal role of a chronic hypochondriac, the potential for canines in medical care may just be the last straw I need to finally become the dog owner that I never thought I'd become.

As for cats? I'll pass.

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Brian Secemsky, M.D.

Medical writing for patients, students
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