The casino helping to combat cancer

Amazing dogs saving lives part of Dunedin's Grand Casino community funding.

Amazing dogs saving lives part of Dunedin's Grand Casino community funding.

There may come a day in the near future where people send urine samples off to be analysed by dogs.

Sounds crazy? Well, it’s all about saving lives, specifically from cancer, and it’s part of a future envisaged by K9 Medical Detection Founder and CEO Pauline Blomfield. Funding from the Dunedin Casino Charitable Trust, part of the $2 million that has flowed into the Otago community since 1999, will assist with this vision.

K9 Medical Detection trains dogs to use their amazing sense of smell in a clinical setting, alerting their handlers to the specific odour released from cancer cells in samples: “Our aim is to make cancer diagnosis faster and easier for all New Zealanders using dogs' sense of smell for early detection,” says Blomfield.

“Cancer statistics in New Zealand are horrendous. An early diagnosis is key to successful treatment, saving lives in many cases. By providing that and making it accessible and easy for people, these dogs could save lives.”

The dogs undergo intensive training and the results speak for themselves. Recently-completed validation tests confirmed the accuracy of the dogs' ability to detect cancer cells. “The casino’s help – $40,000 delivered through the Dunedin Casino Charitable Trust in this instance – will assist K9 Medical Detection to move on to the next stage in training canines for the early detection of cancer,” says Blomfield.

“Our vision is to create a non-invasive early diagnostic urine test as an additional tool in the fight against cancer. With enough funding, we can have more dogs working across more cancers, enabling early diagnosis and potentially a much better patient outcome.”

The Grand Casino directs funds to the Dunedin Casino Charitable Trust, an independent body, as part of its licensing process. During the latest funding round in early December, a further $70,000 was awarded to more than 40 different community organisations, ranging from church-based family support groups to the Otago/Southland Cancer Society, Citizens Advice Bureau, early learning centres, youth trusts, The Choral Society, schools and organisations like the Order of St John, to name only a few. See the full list here (

Haley van Leeuwen, Trust Chairwoman of the Dunedin Casino Charitable Trust, says: “It's an absolute privilege to award grants to so many deserving Otago organisations, each providing incredibly important services and opportunities for our community. Their efforts, mostly voluntary, are invaluable and we look forward to seeing their important work continue.”

However, the casino goes above and beyond its requirement to give a portion of proceeds to the trust by supporting many local organisations directly including the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital and Otago Cricket.

Mike Coggan, CEO of Otago Cricket, is quick to salute the casino’s role: “We’ve had a relationship with the casino for the past six years and they are our major sponsor, our biggest sponsor. Dominique Dowding, the Grand Casino CEO, really saw the value of a bigger investment in Otago Cricket and, in particular, the grassroots of the game.”

Coggan says Otago Cricket has more than 9000 cricketers across a large region encompassing North Otago through to and Southland – and casino funds enable the organisation to send out sports management and coaching development staff to ensure that the grassroots supply of tomorrow’s players continues to flow.

“The bottom line is, just like us, they want to show support for sport in the region and how sport brings people together.”

Dowding says: “Supporting the community is extremely important to us. We view these investments as one of the key social responsibilities of the business.

“It’s so rewarding to hear about the tangible difference we are making societally with our funding. One example we are proud of is Foster Hope – run by an incredible woman, Juanita Willems, who’s been helping the foster community. She’s grown from helping 300 kids up to now 1800 children – and not a lot of people are aware of the important work that she’s doing. We’re really, really proud to have supported her.

“We love making meaningful contributions that support change in our community. It's been fantastic to provide recognition and support to the smaller, lesser-known charities that do amazing work. We get a lot of satisfaction from supporting the region at a community level – a grassroots level – and we’re proud to give them the funding they need to make the extraordinary impacts they do.”

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