In the old days when general practitioners received people in their homes there was often a dog on hand to cheer up the sick and calm those patients waiting to see their doctor.
Sydney vet Rob Zammit wants to revive the tradition of having dogs in surgeries - not just to keep people sweet but also to detect cancers in unsuspecting patients.
"It's the evolution of the dog as, truly, man's best friend," Zammit says, noting that a dog's superior sense of smell gives them the ability to sniff the different scent produced by cancerous waste products.
Dogs are up to 10,000 times better at smelling than we are - which is why they are employed at airports to detect drugs and in dangerous places to sniff out bombs.
Peter Higgins, a vet who serves on the Australian National Kennel Council, urged serious consideration of Zammit's idea of having pet detectors in doctor's surgeries.
"It wouldn't replace diagnostic tests but it would be a good early and non-invasive way of finding if something is there," he says.
Higgins reported that some of the owners who brought their dog in to see him said their pet had alerted them to a cancerous growth.
"They went to their doctor and found they had a skin cancer developing," Higgins says. "I'd be saying to medical practitioners to have a open mind about it, give it a go."
Interest in recruiting dogs in the fight against cancer was piqued by the experience of Sydney woman Paula Bockman-Chato. She got media attention with her heart-warming story of being saved by the family pet, a saluki called Kaspar.
"He kept putting his nose in my armpit and sometimes he'd put his paw in there as well," Bockman-Chato says. "I was totally unaware there was a problem until he kept focusing in that spot."
Sure enough, when Bockman-Chato went to a cancer specialist she learned that a lymph node was in the early stages of turning cancerous. Because of the early detection and treatment, she was fine. Saved by a saluki, in fact.