I was standing in the customs line at an airport in Mexico, watching several members of the canine security patrol checking bags and passengers for explosives, drugs or food.
One dog stopped and sat down beside a proper-looking lady who was near me in line.
The security officer asked her if she was bringing in any food.
Mystified, the woman said no.
He asked again, and again the woman said no.
The officer nodded and motioned to the dog to come.
The dog stood for a second, then sat back down.
“Are you sure you aren’t carrying any food?’’ the officer said.
Again the woman said no.
The officer nodded at the dog.
“My friend says you are,” he said. “Would you please look through your bag?”
The bewildered woman started rummaging through her carry-on bag.
“All I’ve got are these peanuts they gave me on the plane … ”
The officer, satisfied, thanked her and moved on.
I was reminded of this little episode while reading about a French security research company’s efforts to develop a sensory device that would duplicate a dog’s sniffing ability.
“Dogs are awesome,” a researcher told The New York Times.
“They have by far the most developed ability to detect concealed threats.”
He said dogs have roughly 30 times the olfactory cells as people and that the part of the brain devoted to smell is proportionately much larger.
But there are problems with our bomb-sniffing best friends.
They are easily distracted. They are not available 24 hours a day.
They cost a lot to train, in terms of time and money.
Thus the effort to develop something as sensitive as, well, as the nose of my dog, Zoe.
The French company, Flir Systems, has been trying to develop a device that would detect very faint vapors of TNT and other explosives that could be concealed from airport security (not to mention a peanut-carrying passenger).
Such a device could supplant, perhaps even surpass, a dog’s sniffing ability, the researchers say.
I most always bow to scientists – I’ve been that way since they invented something called television – and I have no doubt the day will come when scientists will indeed duplicate the sensory skills of dogs.
What they will never duplicate is a tail-wagging device that comes running and jumping and licking your face off after a two-hour absence.
Here, have a peanut.
Contact BOB BESTLER at firstname.lastname@example.org.