Guest Post: Medical Detection Dogs by Rhian Ivory

Dogs have always been an important part of my life from my very first imaginary dog - Paddy, a beautiful golden Labrador to my first actual real life dog, Candy, a tiny white west highland terrier with a passion for chasing lorries. I remember the day my parents finally caved in and agreed to buy us a real dog, we went into Crickhowell to buy a dog bowl, lead and so on. It was a very hot day (alright, hot for Wales) so the windows were down in mum’s blue fiesta. My brother, Andrew and I were bouncing in excitement on the back seats so much that I fell out of the window – this was when windows went all the way down without any child safety regs. We very nearly didn’t get the dog that day.

My first dog as an adult was Badger, a gorgeous black and white Springer who was the love of my life and followed me everywhere.

His nickname was Houdini because he liked to escape under the gate, over the gate, through a crack in the gate (we eventually replaced the gate) and into the field next door. He would find holes in the fence made by the foxes in the night and disappear just before everyone set off for work and school scaring (and annoying) the life out of us, but he always came home after his adventures and lived to the grand old age of fourteen and is much missed. Our cocker spaniel, Daisy sadly died when she was three due to a ruptured disc in her spine and I vowed never to have another dog. Of course, that didn’t last.

Betty, our black springador (a happy accident between a yellow lab and next door’s Springer on a welsh farm in the middle of nowhere) is the best-behaved dog I’ve ever come across and has been since the day she was born.

 I’ve taken Betty with me into lots of schools and PRU (Pupil Referral Units) to work with autistic students because she seems to know what they’re thinking and feeling. She puts her lovely black head on their knee and stares at them with understanding and empathy, calming them in a way I never could when they’re feeling frustrated.

I’ve seen first-hand what good dogs can do, so when I met someone walking a dog with a red training jacket on one morning on the school run I had to stop to ask about it. This led to me phoning Medical Detection Dogs based in Buckinghamshire to ask how I could help.
Six months later following a lot of training, Stowe, a big gangly eight-month-old black lab lives with me in my role as a Puppy Socialiser for Medical Detection Dogs.

Stowe comes with me everywhere; food shopping, the library, school run, doctor’s appointments even to the toilet – sharing is caring.

 First visit to the local library.

He even came with me to vote in the General Election.

Before the election results when we had hope!

After the election results when hope had left the building.

Stowe is training to be a Medical Alert Assistance dog. When he’s full trained and around one and half he might go to live with someone who has Diabetes Type 1.

‘With their amazing sense of smell our dogs are trained to detect minute changes in blood sugar levels and other hormone-related odour changes. When these levels fall or rise outside the normal range the dogs will warn their owner, get help and fetch any vital medical supplies. We have trained dogs to work with people with very brittle Type 1 diabetes and Addison’s, a disease of the adrenal gland.’

Or Stowe might live with someone like Zoe who has PoTs.

‘There are many different cardiac conditions, all of which can affect the body in different ways. At Medical Detection Dogs, we have been working with a number of different conditions and are training one of our dogs to work with a client with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS).
Postural Tachycardia Syndrome As with all our work, our dogs detect minute changes in the odour, related to factors governed by the particular condition, and when they sense the change they alert the client to the impending, medical event. People living with PoTS often suffer severe and dangerous blackouts and our dogs can give them time to get to safety before they fall unconscious."

I know Stowe is not my dog, Betty is my dog but all the same it’s been impossible not to form a bond with him – I mean, just look at that face!

As anyone who follows me on Instagram knows, he’s obsessed with my red watering can.

He has discovered how to open the bin by placing his paw on the pedal and he’s worked out that he can pull over a whole bag of dog food without much effort.

He’s very good at bringing me things I need, like post-it’s covered in notes for the book I’m writing.

As every good writer knows trowels are of course vital during the writing process.
When I’m training Stowe in public - which involves a lot of time in coffee shops writing/not writing I get asked the same question “How will you ever give him up?”

I confidently reply that he’s not my dog, he’s going to be someone’s life saver and I nod and smile and say I’m sure I’ll be fine when that day comes, but the truth is saying goodbye will be the hardest thing, especially when he gives me his adorable face.

But I will give him up because someone needs him more than I do. It’s that simple. I knew dogs were amazing but I had no idea until I met Stowe just how incredible they really are. I am in awe of Stowe and the team at Medical Detection Dogs and volunteering my time seems a small thing to do.

If you’d like to donate you can do so here -

BIO: Rhian Ivory got her first publishing deal aged 26 and went on to write three more novels for Bloomsbury. She took a break to have three children and during this time taught Creative Writing and also a Children’s Literature course for the Open University. She is a National Trust writer in residence at Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood. She currently lives in Rutland, the smallest county in the country, with her family and dogs.


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