Labradors are known for their ability to act as guide dogs for the blind, but Bianca, a black labrador-retriever cross, has been trained to notify four-year-old Noah’s parents when he’s suffering a hypoglycaemic attack during the night.
Noah suffers from Diabetes, and his parents, Sam and Keith Beeby-Brown live on tenterhooks that Noah could suffer an attack during the night. They check on Noah several times during the night, meaning they are unable to get a full night’s sleep.
Noah has already suffered an attack during the night, two months ago, and Bianca detected his distress and alerted his parents so they could administer a sugar gel, directly into his mouth. Bianca is still undergoing dog training for her unique skill, so the family can’t yet rely on her completely, but the early signs of her ability are promising.
Noah receives tests on his blood four times a night at least, and he’s monitored constantly during the day. His condition is life threatening should he suffer an attack that goes undetected, which is where Bianca comes in and literally saves his life.
Noah has a nurse that watches him during the day when he’s at school, but his condition is impossible to detect at night, making him very vulnerable. Impossible that is, except for Bianca, the labrador-retriever cross. Sam was researching Noah’s condition and discovered that dogs in Australia were used to detect hypos in adults. When she spoke to the people behind the scheme in Australia, she found that the UK had no such organisation, but she was put in touch with Claire Guest, who has experience with dogs for the deaf, and is involved in the new project where dogs are being used to detect cancer in humans.
Clair Guest states:
We don’t know how it works. Endocrinologists do not believe that there is a specific scent attached to hypos, unlike hypers which cause sufferers to emit a smell of pear drops.
But clearly there is something the dogs are sensitive to as they do notice when their owner is in a hypoglycaemic state even when like Noah, they are asleep – and there are certainly no outward symptoms for them to spot.
Bianca was trained by Claire to react differently to Noah’s condition. Bianca’s training however is very expensive, and her use is unlikely to become more widespread without funding.
Bianca was donated to us by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind when she failed to take to the harness.
But after that it will still cost us about £10,000 in training and ongoing supervision. We’d love to be able to offer them more widely.