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Discover Service Dogs

By on May 27, 2014
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Seeing eye dogs aren’t the only “working” dogs out there anymore. As research has developed and we’ve become more aware of the abilities that dogs may have the capacity for, service dogs have become prevalent in the U.S.

Many of our partners have worked with service dogs, whether directly or raising money for a cause, and we’ve also seen much in the news about these special dogs. Their abilities are great and seemingly always getting greater, so we’re here to tell you a bit about what exactly these pups can (and maybe can’t) do.

Service Dogs for America is a massive non-profit dedicated to providing service pups to those who could benefit from them. The list of candidates is large and always growing, but among them are disabled veterans, people with specific physical ailments and children with learning disabilities. The Service Dogs of America Web site has some great information about one special kind of service dog that peaked our interest: “EMRDs” or Emergency Medical Response Dogs. Find out more about them at this link and read a snippet of it below.

Emergency Medical Response Dogs (EMRD) are sometimes called seizure alert dogs because they can alert medical professionals when their owners have epileptic seizures, blood-sugar mishaps for diabetics and more. These dogs are trained to alert medical professionals and, in some cases, can even sense something will happen before it does.

According to the Service Dogs of America Web site, the group “does not guarantee that a dog will sound an alert prior to the onset of a seizure, it’s our experience that most EMRD dogs detect the subtle changes in a person’s odor, respiration rates, and behavior before the average human’s ability to do so. Regardless, our EMRD dogs are trained to nudge their human partner when they notice something different, which allows the person to either take preventative medicine or get themselves in a safe place before a seizure occurs. The dogs may also bring medicine to their partners or perhaps a bottle of juice to a diabetic person.”

These dogs are trained to do many things: one, they can alert a specific person to get help; dogs can also be trained to retrieve medicine in an emergency. These pups are really amazing.

The site also indicates what “While an emergency medical response dog may sound like a miracle solution to some individuals and families, it is imperative to remember they are still merely a dog and not a physician. If a person’s life depends on the dog’s response to a medical emergency, an EMRD is probably not the best choice. The bond we’ve seen between our best placements often takes months and sometimes years to develop and isn’t something that can be established instantly. Therefore, an EMRD is best considered as a tool in improving a person’s quality of life rather than one that saves it.”

Studies have shown that dogs can sometimes sense danger before it happens, so the question of “miracles” is a little fuzzy. What the site is making clear is the fact that these dogs are special, but can’t do everything. Regardless, they can help (and have) save someone’s life.

Because of the medical research that has confirmed that some dogs can sense medical emergencies in their owners before they happen, much more research has occurred lately about the actual capabilities that animals can have. Sensing a seizure or recognizing a diabetic’s malady is one thing, but sniffing out cancer is another.

The Sacramento Bee recently did a story on dogs being able to identify the presence of cancer in their owners’ bodies. Here’s one tale from the article that makes us think a bit about whether these abilities are real or imagined:

(From the Sac Bee article seen here) “Diane Papazian was allergic to dogs and she didn’t especially want a second one, but her husband, Harry, persuaded her to let him purchase Troy, a 3-month-old Doberman pinscher.

Not long afterward, Troy was in bed with the couple one evening and began insistently nuzzling Diane’s left side. It caused her to start itching, and that’s when she discovered the lump in her breast. It turned out to be malignant, but Diane is now cancer-free after a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

The Papazians credit Troy with saving Diane’s life. And he’s not the only pet who has helped owners make such a discovery. A number of dogs and cats have alerted their people not only to various cancers and dangerous infections, but also to oncoming seizures, allergic reactions and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).”

Now, we certainly can’t argue with science and the fact that a dog can be trained to get a pill or seek out someone for help in an emergency, but a dog essentially telling you that you have cancer? That seems a little far fetched to us. These questions have struck up more research recently, including one that says dogs are four times more effective in diagnosing prostate cancer than doctors before cancer is actually determined to be present. Hmmm.

Another article we found recently indicates that researchers think dogs actually are more proficient in diagnosing cancer. Read about it here or see a portion of it below.

(From the link seen above) “Dogs can sniff out prostate cancer with uncanny accuracy, Italian researchers report.

While it’s not a test that is ready for prime time, the findings suggest quick and accurate new ways to screen for the disease, which kills 29,000 U.S. men every year. And the report joins a growing list of studies showing that dogs can smell the byproducts of various types of cancer.

“These dogs were really able to detect these particular compounds with a high degree of accuracy,” said Dr. Stacy Loeb of New York University, a urologist who was not involved in the study.

Gianluigi Taverna of Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan and colleagues took urine samples from 320 men with prostate cancer, and 357 without it. The men with cancer had all different stages of the disease, from very low-risk, slow-growing tumors, to cancer that had spread.

Some of the men in the non-prostate-cancer group had other diseases or conditions, including other types of cancer.

One of the dogs detected every single prostate cancer case, and only hit false positives — when it identified cancer when it wasn’t there — in 2 percent of cases. The other dog was almost as accurate.

Taken together, the two dogs had an accuracy rate of 98 percent, the team reported to the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.

“We have definitely turned what used to seem a myth into a real clinical opportunity,” they wrote.”

So, research was done, favorable results have been recorded, but doctors are still calling it a “clinical opportunity.” If this is really the case, we are amazingly happy and pleased to know that our dogs can alert us to something so serious. The verdict at this point, however, is that we have realized that dogs are capable of having very special talents, but to what extent, we’re not sure. Keep researching, doctors!

In a past interview with conducted with Pam Wiese, VP of Marketing and Advertising at the Nebraska Humane Society, we learned of one related tale involving a special dog. When asked about the most heartwarming adoption tale she remembers, here’s what Pam said:

There are so many, you know. Sometimes it’s that you are so thrilled to see a dog go to someone who adores them after they had been here forever. I guess the ones that I am personally involved in are the best for me. There’s one that’s so incredible. One gal had adopted a little terrier mix and she (the owner) had a seizure disorder for quite some time. The first time they ever heard the dog bark was about three minutes before she has a big seizure. They didn’t think anything about it until it happened two more times. She said, this dog somehow senses something, smells the chemical changes in my body, which they do, and is able to let her know. Now, she says, she is so confident in this dog’s ability that she can go out and do things. She’s not worried about ending up on the ground with no help now. This dog was a simple adoption- she wasn’t looking for a seizure alert dog or anything, but it was one of those crazy adoptions that happens. This little dog is now her constant companion and has afforded her a lot of freedom she never had before. It’s amazing. This little dog has a job and has a person he is helping. She felt as if she was doing the dog a favor by adopting, but it turned out a little differently. It’s incredible stories like that which are heartwarming to me.”

This adoption story proves, along with the science spoken of above, that medical alerts dogs do have a special “sixth sense” and can help people manage their conditions. The fact that someone was able to stumble upon a necessary alert dog makes the story that much greater.

One of the coolest things that service dogs are able to do these days has to do with kids. According to Autism Service Dogs of America, which can be found on the Web by clicking here, they have assisted in making a “positive impact on the lives of individuals living with autism, and their families, by providing exceptionally well-trained service dogs.” This mission statement is a profound one and surely makes the quality of life a lot better for families who have children with learning disabilities.

The site also says: “Our service dogs provide physical safety and an emotional anchor for children with autism. With their child tethered to a service dog, families are able to engage in activities as simple as going to the park or going out to eat as a family. When out in the community, a service dog increases safety and helps families feel secure. The service dog’s calming presence can minimize and often eliminate emotional outbursts, enabling the child to more fully participate in community and family activities. In many cases, the service dog accompanies the child to school, helping with transitions between activities and locations. Having a service dog helps increase opportunities for the child to develop social and language skills with others.”

The benefits that these service dogs have are unmistakable and just another example of how dogs that are exceptionally trained can make a big impact on our lives.

We’re thankful for service dogs and all the groups out there making access to them easier and more prevalent. We’re also excited that the issue of a dog’s ability to help humans with physical ailments is being so oft studied. We knew our little companions were good for a lot, but it seems we have only scratched the surface.

 

About Eric Forrest

Eric is a pet lover, bookworm and dad. He's had 5 family dogs, 4 cats, a cottontail rabbit he nursed back to health, and two ducks. Cats are his preference, but Eric loves all little critters.

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