As part of International Assistance Dog Week, we will be profiling a different UK assistance dog charity each day. We will also be speaking to Support Dogs on The Yorkshire Vets Podcast this week, so keep your eyes (and ears) peeled! Our third charity profile is on Medical Detection Dogs.
Who are Medical Detection Dogs?
Medical Detection Dogs was founded in 2008. Their Co-Founder, Chief Executive and Director of Operations, is Dr Claire Guest. Claire helped found the charity after spending a number of years working with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and then training medical detection dogs around the world. The charity’s headquarters is in Milton Keynes, but they provide assistance dogs to people across the UK.
What do they do?
Medical Detection Dogs work with dogs that are able to sense medical issues in humans that would not be apparent to our human senses. These dogs fall into two categories; Bio-Detection Dogs and Medical Alert Assistance Dogs.
Medical Alert Assistance Dogs
Medical Assistance Dogs train their dogs to detect the signs of Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s, severe nut allergy, and Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (PoTS). As a result, they are able to warn their owners of medical episodes ahead of time. Consequently, the owner is able to take measures to avoid or minimise the risk of any medical event. Diabetes dogs, for example, are able to detect when their owner’s blood sugar is low. Dogs achieve this by smelling their owner’s breath in the air. The dog can then alert the owner by jumping up or licking strongly. The owner is then able to eat something to bring their blood sugar levels back up. For dogs to pass their training, they need to prove an accuracy of over 90% in detecting medical events.
For an example of the impact that medical alert dogs can have, you can read the story of Leeds resident Katie Purcell and her support dog Archie. Katie suffers from PoTS and Addison’s, and frequent collapses have resulted in regular bone breakages, including skull and spinal fractures. Since the arrival of Alfie, in January 2016, Katie has been alerted over 360 times. Consequently, she is able to prepare for a collapse and make sure that she is safe.
Bio-detection dogs are dogs that trained to sniff out the scents of various forms of cancer. This is a newly emerging field, and these dogs are only currently used for laboratory work as second line diagnostic support for detecting cancers that are difficult to diagnose. These dogs work 20-minute shifts, 2 to 4 times a week. The work involves sniffing breath and urine samples within a laboratory environment. Due to their relatively short working hours, these dogs typically live a normal home life outside of their working life!
How can I help?
Medical Detection Dogs receives no government funding. As a result, they are always on the look out for volunteers, donors and fundraisers. If you would like to help, please click on one of the following links for further information.