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
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