By Philip O’Connor
In an ice hockey hall in northern Stockholm, Molly, a four-year-old springer spaniel, busily searches for substances her handlers have planted in locker rooms, shoes and trash cans
The dog is training in a practice session for a role her handlers say is unique to her – sniffing out powders, tablets and liquids used by drug cheats to gain an advantage in sport.
Sweden’s Sports Confederation says Molly is the world’s first anti-doping dog, introduced to the job last spring in a bid to broaden the country’s efforts in curtailing the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport.
“She’s a search dog so she’s trained exactly the same as a dog for customs, for example, for narcotics,” Swedish doping control officer Michael Sjoo, also Molly’s handler, said.
“She’s trained for doping substances instead…an intensive training. She’s been living and staying with a customs dog handler for six months, daily, repeatedly training in order to teach her all the substances she can detect.”
Originally from Northern Ireland, Molly stayed with a Swedish customs officer before going to live with Sjoo and his wife Joanna, who also works in doping control for the Swedish Sports Confederation.
Together they turn up unannounced at sporting events to perform searches. In July, Molly attended competitions, from athletics to swimming, at the “Swedish Championship Week” held in the southern towns of Helsingborg and Landskrona, where amateurs as well as some pros compete.
Her handlers are wary of revealing all the substances she can find but say she is trained to sniff out all manner of performance-enhancers
“She can detect a lot of substances, of course steroids and of course testosterone…She can detect powder, tablets and even ampoules with liquid in them,” Michael Sjoo said.
“She doesn’t look so scary, she’s a very nice dog and most of the people like what we are doing and what she is doing,” Joanna Sjoo added.
Molly has discovered substances during routine searches and though the doping control officers cannot search bags, they can call the athletes for dope tests. Several, found out by Molly, later tested positive, Michael Sjoo said.
The doping control officer expects other dogs will be trained like Molly as authorities seek new ways to nab cheats. Earlier this year the UK Anti-Doping organization said it was looking at the use of sniffer dogs at sporting events.
“I already know that different anti-doping organizations are also looking into this thing, with a new anti-doping dog,” he said. “We need new tools, of course we test the athletes now for urine and more for blood but we need to find something else.”
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)