The life saving puppy
Published 19 June 2012
A puppy is being trained to use his nose to detect when his owner, who has Type 1 diabetes, needs life-saving glucose.
Treacle sniffs molecules on his owner's skin and will raise the alarm if he detects sugar levels are below safe levels. He will bark, lay still and paw at his owner if she does not respond.
The "Cavapoo", a King Charles Spaniel-Toy Poodle cross, is a potential life saver, according to owner Dr Moira Harrison, a principal lecturer in diabetes in the University of Brighton's School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.
She is also using her dog to help teach pharmacy and medical students about the disease.
Dr Harrison said: `'My blood sugar levels sometimes go below what they should be without me knowing it, and there is a danger of me having a hypoglycaemic (hypo) attack which can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
"Treacle is being trained to detect molecules from my scent that will alert him that my sugar levels are up or down. He's amazing."
Treacle is with Dr Harrison 24 hours every day and will raise the alarm in the middle of the night if needs be. And he is a star attraction among Dr Harrison's pharmacy students: She believes he enhances her teaching.
Treacle is still learning his craft and his Facebook page reads: "I am training to be a hypo detection dog. Right now I can detect my owner's hypo scent on cloth and breath samples and soon will be able to tell her when her blood glucose is going low. And we are nearly there."
Dr Harrison, who has had Type 1 diabetes for 28 years, uses a pump which continually delivers insulin to regulate her blood glucose levels, but they are still prone to fluctuate greatly. To make sure she remains on an even keel, she tests her blood every few hours using a device that pricks a finger to produce a bead of blood for testing with a blood-glucose meter.
Dr Moira Harrison with Treacle the Cavapoo
When Treacle is fully trained he will give Dr Harrison added security and peace of mind, and she will be able to reduce the number of blood tests: "My hands have suffered greatly from all the testing but, hopefully, Treacle's alerts will mean I won't have to have quite so many and I will be able to treat my low blood glucose before it becomes dangerously low."
It was a diabetes consultant who gave Dr Harrison the idea of getting a detection dog and it was Nina Bonderenko, nationally-known for training sniffer dogs, who helped choose a dog with an "excellent nose" and temperament. From just a few weeks old, Treacle has been trained by Sussex-based Michelle Garvey, an expert in animal behaviour.
Dr Harrison explained the technique: "When my blood glucose is very low, I rub my skin with a cloth or breathe onto filter paper. These are then put into one of three trays on the floor, the other two containing material infused with my scent when my blood glucose was normal. Treacle is given a treat and made a fuss of when he sniffs the right tray, and so gets to learn that finding my hypo scent is rewarding."
He had to work out for himself what the difference was. The final stage is to transfer the testing to his owner so he reacts to when he detects problems direct from her.
Dr Harrison said: "I cried the first time Treacle found the right tray because until then, there was no guarantee he would respond to the training and figure out what we wanted him to do. Our relationship has since grown and we are now inseparable. He means so much to me as a friend and potential life saver.
"People with diabetes have to manage their disease themselves, alone, and for me to be able to share the burden with Treacle is just fantastic."
Treacle, one of several medical detection dogs in the country, wears a coat announcing Diabetes Alert Dog and asking people not to pet him so that he keeps focused on his owner.
Dr Harrison said: "Treacle has given me so much pleasure and I love him to bits. He's the only positive thing that has come out of my disease."
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Contact: Marketing and Communications, University of Brighton, 01273 643022