Hounds of love: how support dogs can help with everything from diabetes to autism
Coco, a chocolate-brown cocker spaniel puppy, had been living with her owner for just three days when it is likely she saved her life for the first time. Now, six months later, it happens daily. Millie Law, who is 12, has a complex form of type 1 diabetes, which gives her no indication when her blood sugar levels are dangerously low or high. Coco, who can use her powerful sense of smell to detect changes on Millie’s breath or sweat, is one of about 7,000 dogs in Britain offering life-changing – and sometimes life-saving – support to children and adults with a growing range of medical conditions and disabilities.
As well as guide dogs for the blind and hearing dogs, specially trained dogs can provide practical support to those with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy to the effects of stroke and autism. Others can alert to dangerous situations in type 1 diabetes, epilepsy, Addison’s disease, nut allergy, narcolepsy and some cardiac conditions.
“Coco is a guardian angel,” says Millie’s father, Graham. “Before she arrived, Millie didn’t feel safe. She had several frightening emergency hospital admissions. Now she knows Coco is looking after her wherever she goes.”
Coco is in the process of becoming an accredited diabetic alert dog through the organisation Hypo Hounds. Unusually, this new charity works with and trains pet dogs rather than by matching people with pre-trained dogs. Coco is now eight months, and her training should be complete – with her identifying 80% of Millie’s hypos (blood glucose lows) and hypers (highs) – Continue reading