A four­legged friend trained to save your life

One of this year’s re­cip­i­ents of the an­nual Ca­nine Hero Awards was five-year-old Mi­ran­dah Wil­son’s labrador, Koda

Diabetic Living - - CONTENTS -

The Ca­nine Hero Awards – an­nounced at the Syd­ney Royal Easter Show – recog­nise dogs who per­form acts of bravery or com­pan­ion­ship. Koda re­ceived Com­pan­ion Dog Award for mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in Mi­ran­dah’s life liv­ing with type 1.

“Koda has alerted [us] nu­mer­ous times to Mi­ran­dah’s dan­ger­ously low [blood glu­cose] lev­els, es­pe­cially dur­ing the night,” says Mi­ran­dah’s dad, Derek Wil­son. “Koda’s award was a big sur­prise to us and a very pres­ti­gious and proud mo­ment for all of us.”

Two-and-a-half-years ago, Mi­ran­dah was rushed to the emer­gency de­part­ment in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion. Af­ter hav­ing been sick for a few weeks and hav­ing blood tests four days ear­lier, she was di­ag­nosed with type 1. “Most who have type 1 are one tough breed that just take their di­ag­no­sis in their stride,” says Derek. “We re­ally en­cour­age her that no mat­ter what life throws at her, she can do any­thing she wants.”

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously worked with scent-de­tec­tion dogs in a non­med­i­cal-re­lated field, Derek was aware of their abil­i­ties, but it wasn’t un­til he was sit­ting down at a bar­be­cue with friends that they started talk­ing about tools and equip­ment the fam­ily could use to help man­age Mi­ran­dah’s type 1. “Then they men­tioned med­i­cal alert dogs,” he says. “Some­thing that we hadn’t con­sid­ered.”

Through a four-week process at ser­vice dog breeder Ta­pua Labrador, where they saw a lit­ter’s re­ac­tion and in­ter­ac­tion to scent swabs of Mi­ran­dah’s low blood glu­cose lev­els, de­sen­si­tis­ing of noises and more, two-mon­thold Koda was picked to be­come a di­a­betes alert dog for Mi­ran­dah.

“It takes a very spe­cial dog to be a med­i­cal alert dog and the se­lec­tion process is only the start,” says Derek. “The first two years of any ser­vice dog’s train­ing are cru­cial, and full on, and some­times when they get to this stage of train­ing they may not be com­pletely right for the job.”

At this stage, two-year-old Koda has been trained to alert when Mi­ran­dah’s BGLs are 4.7 or lower. “When I’m low she comes and sniffs me,” says Mi­ran­dah. “Then she barks and Mum or Dad come and check on me to see if I’m low.”

In say­ing that, there have been times where Koda has been alert­ing, but upon check­ing, Mi­ran­dah was in the nor­mal range. “But Koda would not let up,” ex­plains Derek. “So we rechecked five min­utes later and Mi­ran­dah was hypo!”

Derek says as much as they love Koda, a med­i­cal alert dog is a very ex­pen­sive and time­con­sum­ing com­mit­ment. Get­ting the best re­sults in­volves hard and con­tin­u­ous work, and you need to know when to draw a line – es­pe­cially when it comes to train­ing – as they have a job to do.

“A med­i­cal alert dog can­not be trained from noth­ing to su­per­star in just 12 months,” he says. “You must also re­mem­ber hav­ing a med­i­cal alert dog is not fool­proof. Just like tech­nol­ogy, they have their off days and times where they are just not on the ball. But in say­ing all that, if you are com­mit­ted and will­ing to take on all the work, it is also very, very re­ward­ing.”

Al­though Koda is a worker, who is still un­der­go­ing train­ing with fur­ther goals to reach, she is also a part of the Wil­son’s fam­ily.

“Mi­ran­dah un­der­stands that Koda is there to help her with her low BGLs, but re­ally, Koda is [her] best friend. Mi­ran­dah is proud of her girl and loves telling peo­ple all about her and the job she has to do,” says Derek. “She is the best dog ever,” adds Mi­ran­dah.

It takes a very spe­cial dog to be a med­i­cal alert dog

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