A dog's natural instinct and tracking ability is explored.
Type 1 diabetes sufferer Philippa has lived with the potentially lethal ailment since the age of ten. As her body does not naturally produce insulin, her blood sugar can suddenly plummet to dangerously low levels. “I’ve been found unconscious in a number of different places,” Philippa explains. When she was 18 years old, doctors told her that it was doubtful that she would live past the age of 21. Now 36, Philippa credits her Yorkshire terrier, Poppy, for her survival.
Trained by the Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs charity, Poppy uses her sense of smell to detect when Philippa’s blood sugar is dropping. She barks to let her owner know that it is time to take action. As dogs have 40 times more nasal receptor cells than humans, they can pick up on the infinitesimal changes in scent that indicate possible medical danger ahead. “She’s helped me in ways I didn’t know were possible,” Philippa says of her faithful dog.
Whizz, a large Newfoundland, is an experienced water-rescue dog. When he is not needed for lifeguard duty, Whizz plays with children with learning difficulties, acting as a calming influence on them. The Bristol-based charity Newfound Friends takes one such youngster, 10-year-old Christopher, out every weekend to learn new water-based rescue scenarios with Whizz. “He gets so much out of it,” says Christopher’s mother, Rachel. “The dogs are probably four or five times the size of him, but he’s got no fear at all,” she adds. Although Whizz has incredible strength – he can pull a boatload of 12 people along with his teeth – Newfoundlands are well known for their easy-going and loyal temperaments, making them ideal candidates for working with children. In Hobart, Tasmania, the Ron Barwick minimum security prison houses 125 male inmates. Three of these prisoners take part in the Pups in Prison programme. Labradors and golden retrievers are bred to help people with physical disabilities, but they are given to the inmates for the first 18 months of their lives.
As lots of time is needed to raise an assistance dog, prisoners make perfect candidates to look after the animals during their training. However, the benefits are mutual. The responsibility it garners, coupled with the pups’ loving natures, means that the men involved with the scheme often become reformed characters very quickly. Petting the animals releases higher levels of oxytocin into the human bloodstream, thus the dogs provide a naturally calming effect on the prisoners. “It makes me feel I have a definite responsibility,” one inmate reports. “It’s taught me a lot about team work, patience and life skills.”