We are at the headquarters of Medical Detection Dogs, a charity co-founded by Claire Guest, a behavioural psychologist with a special interest in the relationship between people and dogs. She appears today with her own doggy entourage: cocker spaniel, wire-haired dachshund, a pair of labradors, all of which live with her and follow her around at work, like disciples. She chats to them: “No, no, no, Asher please… da-da-da, sweet pea!” Too late. Iggy, the dachshund, is a rescue dog and still learning things, including that the red carpet isn’t a toilet. Guest doesn’t blame him; it’s her fault, she says.
It all started when a friend of Guest’s told her about her pet dalmatian sniffing persistently at one of her moles. The friend went to the GP, had the mole removed, and found she had a malignant melanoma. “From then on, I thought, if I can do anything in my life, I want to prove that dogs can smell cancer and disease,” says Guest. Later, she would have her own personal experience: a dog in training started to behave strangely around her, nudging her and staring at her as if concerned. Guest also went to the GP, was referred, “and to cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer”.