'Hope in the nose of a dog': WA nonprofit trains dogs to detect Parkinson's disease

This month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed April as "Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month." 

The proclamation comes as 10 million people in the world are currently living with Parkinson’s Disease, according to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation. In the United States, there’s one million people who have Parkinson’s and, in the Northwest, that number stands at more than 100,000 people. 

"We appreciate the governor in joining those other states and countries around the world in recognizing Parkinson’s Disease," said Steve Bodnar, who has Parkinson’s Disease and is also the President of the NW Parkinsons’ Foundation.

Bodnar was diagnosed with the progressive neurological disorder in 2017. 

"It’s the lack of dopamine which is really important because it helps those neurons fire in the brain that controls your speech and movement," Bodnar said. This means when you see a person who has tremors, speech difficulty or trouble moving, it's because their muscles become stiff or tighten involuntarily. 

"It’s not a death sentence, it is a progressive neurological disease in which there is no cure right now," Bodnar said. He adds though, there is hope. 

Hope that Lisa Holt, the Program Director and Detection Trainer for PADS for Parkinson’s, says comes in all shapes and sizes, even in the form of a dog. 

"PADS stands for Parkinson’s alert dogs," Holt said.

PADS is the first program that trained dogs to detect an odor associated with Parkinson’s, according to Holt. The non-profit started on the San Juan Islands in Washington state in 2016 before it moved to France in 2023 to further its research.

"You start with pairing the odor with something you want the dog to learn and you pair it with something the dog considers very high value reinforcer or reward," Holt said.


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She adds, their research found dogs can sniff out Parkinson’s Disease with up to 90% accuracy. The hope is that one day these dogs can help medical scientists identify Parkinson’s in people before symptoms start. 

"For people that don’t understand this, there is no absolute diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease outside of an autopsy today," Holt said. 

Once the source of the disease is identified, then Holt told FOX 13, that’s when medical scientists can gain a better understanding, which will hopefully, in the future, lead to a cure. 

"It’s hope in the nose of a dog," Holt said.

Until then though, Bodnar told FOX 13 there are a number of resources for people living with Parkinson’s right now. There are also resources for the caretakers and ways to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s. They can be found on the Northwest Parkinson's Foundation website. The NW Parkinson’s Foundation is also sponsoring a ‘Walk for Parkinson’s’ on May 25 at the University of Washington Husky track.


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