Cancer-Sniffing Canine Wins National Search and Rescue Dog of the Year

By Liz Caldwell

UAMS’ Arny Ferrando, Ph.D. (left) and Alexander Burnett, M.D. (right) accompanied John D. to the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in Los Angeles.

John D. was the first dog to enter the UAMS ovarian cancer detection program.

Photos Courtesy of VHiggins Photography 





Oct. 31, 2013 | John D. has gone from homeless to Hollywood in just five years. He has changed countless lives through his cancer detection skills and with search and rescue after disasters. He is now being recognized for all his hard work nationally, even getting attention from several celebrities including Betty White. And he’s done it all on four legs.

John D. was named the national Search and Rescue Hero Dog of the Year at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. The awards were televised Oct. 30 on the Hallmark Channel. The event is the culmination of seven months of competition for John D. The televised trophy presentation was at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

One of the things John D. is best known for is his cancer detection skills. He was the first dog to enter the UAMS ovarian cancer detection program led by Alexander “Sandy” Burnett, M.D., professor in UAMS College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“We have been working on this for three years,” Burnett said. “He has been successful in detecting a scent for ovarian cancer in urine and can differentiate urine from cancer patients. We are now beginning a study to determine the sensitivity and specificity of his abilities. Because there is no screening for this deadly disease, we are very optimistic about the promise of our canine detection program.”

These Canine Cancer Detection Studies for early detection of ovarian and thyroid cancers have attracted interest worldwide. After the success of the ovarian cancer studies, Donald Bodenner, M.D., Ph.D., and Arny Ferrando, Ph.D., also enlisted John D. to help detect thyroid cancer. All three physicians accompanied John D. to Los Angeles to accept the award with him.

John D. is a Border Collie that was rescued from a local animal shelter at 6 weeks old. He was trained to be a search-and-rescue dog. He has been called to help police with kidnappings, drownings and missing persons cases. He also responded to large-scale disasters such as the Joplin, Mo. tornado and the Nashville, Tenn. floods.

John D. is owned and handled by Donna Waugh. She is president of the American Scent Dog Association (ASDA), a nonprofit organization that trains, certifies and deploys canines for scent detection work. ASDA has provided volunteer teams of canines and handlers to missions in five states since its inception in 2002.