WITH a longstanding tradition of dogs leading the blind, and the deaf, they have long been regarded as man’s best friend.
But thanks to further research from the Medical Dedication Dogs charity, canines are now able assist people with conditions such as diabetes, and even detect cancer.
The charity, which was founded by Dr Claire Guest in 2008, has made progress in recent years in the field of cancer detection.
Steven Courtney, 11, from Merton Road, Ambrosden, suffers from Type 1 Diabetes.
His dog Molly has proved herself very useful since she completed her training with the charity in 2012.
The three-year-old Cocker Spaniel watches Steven for signs that his blood sugar levels are not normal. And she shares a close bond with the family, going everywhere with her owner from football practice to holidays.
Steven said: “Molly is with me all the time when I’m not at school. She makes me feel more confident at night and when I’m asleep.
“Molly watches me from the side of the pitch at training and all my matches. I am looking forward to going on holiday again in the summer with Molly because we both love playing in the sea together.”
Molly was accepted into the medical detection dog training programme in 2011.
She had to go through an intensive 10-month training regime to make sure she was able to alert Steven and keep calm in public spaces.
The Spaniel now only has to bark to alert Steven and his family that something’s not quite right.
Steven’s mother, Serena Courtney, 40, said: “She’s just amazing. I had no idea she could be as good as she is. It’s like we have a guardian angel.”
Mrs Courtney added: “Before we had Molly, I would get up constantly in the night.
“Now, Steven settles better in bed.
“He was always very aware that he could go low in the night and used to worry all the time.
“But now he knows that she’ll alert him if his sugar levels drop.”
Mrs Courtney now has more time for her younger son, Charlie, who is seven, and joked: “I can leave Molly in charge!”
The Courtney family is very thankful for the help Molly has given them.
They now involve themselves in fundraising for the charity and are set to take part in the Mayor of Bicester, Melanie Magee’s, Fun Walk on Good Friday.
Volunteer and puppy socialiser Debbie Roberts with Lir, a rescued poodle and golden retriever Ailbhe
Heather Shute, 70, from Milton-under-Wychwood, runs the Oxfordshire fundraising branch for the charity. She has been working with assistance dogs for more than 20 years.
She said: “The dogs are amazing. They are keeping people out of hospital every day.”
Her branch, which aims to raise £1,000 a month for the charity, has raised more than £33,000 since they were founded four years ago.
Made up of a team of eager volunteers, the branch is looking to recruit people to help young puppies through their 10-month training.
Ms Shute said: “The waiting list for assistance dogs is so long.”
One dog, Magic, was trained by charity volunteer Debbie Roberts, and last year went to work with a paediatric nurse in Cambridge.
Mrs Roberts gave up her day job to manage the Eynsham Dog Stop, on Old Witney Road, Eynsham.
She has successfully trained two dogs so far for the charity.
Mrs Roberts said: “It is very hard to do it properly. We work closely with one of the trainers and they come and monitor the progress.
A proud dog owner, Mrs Roberts has three dogs, a boarding house and is hoping to train another puppy for the charity.”
'Molly brought me round, otherwise I would have died'
MELANIE Magee, the Mayor of Bicester, has suffered from type 1 Diabetes since she was three years old.
The 43 year-old, who is due to finish her term in May, has raised more than £5,000 for the charity through sponsored walks, fun runs and other activities.
After collapsing as a result of diabetes last year, the Mayor was discovered by one of her spaniels, called Hazel.
She said: “The dog brought me around. She was nudging at me, howling.
From left, diabetes sufferer Dani Magee, 21, with her mum Melanie Magee, Serena Courtney with Molly
“I had actually sat down at 8pm needing some sugar. The next thing I knew was coming around at 11.05pm. I stood up but at that point I was so low in sugar.
“I managed to get downstairs to have a lucozade. Had she not found me I would have died.”
Mrs Magee added: “It was literally by accident that Hazel found me. It was after that I went on to Google and found out about how the dogs know what is going on with their owners.”
Mrs Magee and her daughter Dani, who also suffers from type 1 Diabetes, saw first-hand how the charity trains puppies to carry out life-saving actions for their owners, detecting cancer and diabetic collapse, through their sense of smell.
She said: “Touch wood, I haven’t and won’t have any similar situations.”
Detection dogs undergo intensive training
The Milton-Keynes based charity Medical Detection Dogs runs research and training into the role dogs can play in detecting cancer.
Founded by Dr Claire Guest, the charity currently has 45 working medical assistance dogs.
The animals, whose noses are 100,000 times more sensitive than humans, are currently able to help test samples for the presence of breast cancer. The charity hopes to publish findings on the dog’s ability to detect prostate cancer later this year.
It costs £5,000 to train a cancer detection dog, and £10,000 to fund a medical assistance dog.
The charity uses a lot of Labradors for medical assistance work and also uses puppies that are not suitable for working with deaf and blind people, to work in their different branches.
For further information, visit medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk