Canada’s first C. diff sniffing dog

Dogs can do amazing things from hunting down criminals to sniffing out drugs. But Angus, a two-year old English springer spaniel, is a detection dog like no other.

Angus has officially passed all of his training to detect C. difficile or C.diff, a superbug that attacks people whose immune systems have been weakened by antibiotics and the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

“We strive to continue to find ways to provide better care, and sometimes the answer is not more technology, but instead, man’s best friend,” says Health Minister Terry Lake.

Perfect for the job

Angus has been training for the past year-and-a-half and is now ready to begin working at Vancouver General Hospital. “We’re thrilled to have Angus join our infection fighting team in the battle against C. diff,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, Regional Medical Director Infection Control, Vancouver Coastal Health. “We recognize Angus is still young and building up his stamina, so we’re exploring several options for his deployment.” Angus has been issued hospital ID, and could be working this fall.

Angus can find C. diff in areas of the hospital that would otherwise go unnoticed to the naked eye. Finding these hidden reservoirs is crucial to eradicating C. diff. Once the bacterium is detected, the area or patient room is cleaned with a state-of-the-art UV light disinfecting robot that removes 99.9% of the C.diff spores.

An idea was born

Teresa is all too familiar with the consequences of C.diff. She became infected after being treated for a gash on her leg. She lost 20-pounds and spent a week in hospital. “It was awful, I almost died” she says. Her experience with C. diff and her background as a certified trainer of bomb-detecting and drug-detecting dogs prompted her to search far and wide for a suitable K-9 partner. Angus, who hails from Montana, was the perfect fit.

Vancouver General Hospital was a natural hospital to approach because Teresa’s husband, Markus Zurberg, is a Quality & Patient Safety Coordinator for Vancouver Coastal Health, which takes infection control seriously.

Vancouver Coastal Health has implemented a number of measures to combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms and has won national and international awards for this innovative work. It was the first health authority in Canada to utilize ultraviolet light to supplement the disinfection process, clean equipment is tagged and barcoded to ensure routine inspections and maintenance are performed, and Vancouver Coastal Health participates in voluntary as well as mandatory provincial surveillance programs. Angus will be a great addition to this comprehensive infection fighting team.

Angus after work

When he isn’t working, Angus likes to hang out with Roger Dodger, the Zurberg’s other spaniel. He has also taken up the sport of dock-diving and, after much coaxing managed to convince his owners to purchase a backyard pool.

Angus has many friends and is garnering significant media attention. You can follow his adventures on his Facebook page.

* Angus is the first CERTIFIED C-Diff dog in Canada (there’s another in training).