There is still a large prejudice in the general public over what exactly qualifies as a Service or Assistance Animal. Small animals especially are at risk for discrimination because of their size, but sometimes those animals are perfect for assisting with certain types of conditions such as hypoglycemic episodes in diabetics.
Reuters published a story today about how researchers at Queen's University Belfast found a whopping 65 percent of 212 people with insulin-dependent diabetes reported that when they had a hypoglycemic episode their pets naturally alerted them by whining, barking, licking or by some other means. Training can only further that ability.
At the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs research center in Aylesbury, southern England, animal trainers are putting that finding into practice and honing dogs' innate skills.
The charity has 17 rescue dogs at various stages of training that will be paired up with diabetic owners, many of them children.
"Dogs have been trained to detect certain odors down to parts per trillion, so we are talking tiny, tiny amounts. Their world is really very different to ours," Chief Executive Claire Guest told Reuters TV.
The center was started five years ago by orthopedic surgeon Dr John Hunt, who wanted to investigate curious anecdotes about dogs pestering their owners repeatedly on parts of their body that were later found to be cancerous.
At around the same time, the first hard evidence was being gathered by researchers down the road at Amersham Hospital that dogs could identify bladder cancer from chemicals in urine.
The move into diabetes followed the case of Paul Jackson, who told Guest and her team about his dog Tinker who warns him when his sugar levels get too low and he is in danger of collapsing.
"It's generally licking my face, panting beside me. It depends how far I have gone before he realizes," Jackson said.
Tinker has now been trained by the Aylesbury center and is a fully qualified Diabetic Hypo-Alert dog, complete with red jacket to announce himself as a working assistance animal.
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