Weather Updates

Group raises money for cancer-detecting canines

St. Charles 12/15/13--Vallie Szymanski with her Afgan Hound Ch KhlGateway Veterinary Clinic St. Charles. | Jeff Krage/For Sun-Times Media

St. Charles, 12/15/13--Vallie Szymanski with her Afgan Hound Ch Khlin at Gateway Veterinary Clinic in St. Charles. | Jeff Krage/For Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 59415868
tmspicid: 21566839
fileheaderid: 10170360


Buffalo Grove’s Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness organization, a 501-c-3 agency, is earmarking donations to support the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center.

For more information, visit

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: February 16, 2014 4:13AM

With the help of man’s best friend, a Buffalo Grove non-profit is trying to help researchers in Pennsylvania figure out ovarian cancer.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine have found that some dogs have the ability to detect the early stages of ovarian cancer — with a sniff. Based in Buffalo Grove, the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness organization is helping fund one animal’s refinement into an ovarian-cancer detective.

“It’s really interesting stuff,” said Vallie Szymanski, one of the organization’s three cofounders. “We decided that we should look into the work that they’re doing.”

What they found in Philadelphia was Ohlin, a chocolate Labrador that the veterinary school is training to sniff out the early stages of the disease that killed one of the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness organization’s other cofounder, Susan Roman. The group has earmarked new donations to support Penn’s work with Ohlin.

“It fits within our mission of education and early detection,” said Szymanski, who added that the partnership takes the group back to its own origin. “At the onset, we wanted to have a human-animal healing component. We think that Susan’s dog detected her tumor.”

Years ago, Rick and Susan Roman’s Rottweiler mix, Bacchus, is believed to have been the first creature to know that Susan had stage-three ovarian cancer. When Susan would do sit-ups at home, Bacchus would walk over and lay on her stomach, an abnormal behavior that the group believes was related to Susan’s cancer.

Susan underwent regular screenings for ovarian cancer because her mother died after a battle with the disease. Susan found out she had ovarian cancer at the first checkup after Bacchus was displaying the abnormal response to her stomach area.

The Romans and Szymanski founded the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness organization in April 2010, and Susan died in March 2012.

Dogs have always been able to detect odors humans cannot, and at Penn’s Working Dogs center researchers have long worked with dogs to hone that ability.

John Donges, communications coordinator at the Working Dogs center, said its pooches check bodies for indicators of diabetes, as well as search buildings for explosives or search wreckages for trapped people. Ovarian cancer is another program at the center, one that Ohlin has shown a particular strength in — but no one knows why yet, because no one knows exactly what he is smelling.

“They’re trying to identify the specific odorants that the dogs are detecting,” Donges explained. “We know the dogs are detecting something, we’re not quite sure what yet.”

He noted that dogs have 125 million scent receptors, compared to 5 million in humans.

While scientists continue to research what a dog is smelling in a person with ovarian cancer, the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness organization is looking for extra ways to connect animals with human health.

In another program, the group is putting information about early-stage detection in veterinarians’ offices, where 75 percent of customers are women, as are 80 percent of vets.

“They talk about their own health issues,” Szymanski said. “We’re really capitalizing on that.”

Some of those informational materials will feature Ch Khlin, Szymanski’s Afghan hound, who received a spa and grooming day Sunday to get ready for a photo shoot and public appearances as the organization’s “spokesdog.”

The group hopes to bring Ohlin to Buffalo Grove for a visit next year.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.