Twice a week, a rescue dog named Shugga has a very important job. Dressed in her signature tutu, the little Pomeranian barks with excitement for her turn to play her favorite game: detecting Parkinson’s disease. Inside a training room, four canisters conceal T-shirts worn overnight by four different people — three healthy, and one with Parkinson’s disease.

“She kind of just barrels through the room and goes right to the canister most times, and smacks it,” her owner, Amber Chenoweth, told TODAY. “It’s winning the game that gives her so much confidence and makes her so happy.”

Shugga is one of 21 dogs of various sizes and breeds training to detect Parkinson’s disease, a nervous system disorder that affects movement, with Pads for Parkinson’s, a nonprofit based on San Juan Island in Washington state. The goal is for researchers to be able to identify which molecules allow the canines to detect the disease, and then develop early-detection methods and possibly a cure.

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