It’s never nice getting up at the crack of dawn but my 5.15 alarm call this morning was well worth the pain as the reason for my early start was to meet an amazing dog called Sheba and talk about how she helps her owner cope with epilepsy on Daybreak on ITV.
After arriving at the ITV studios at 6am I met Sheba and her owner Sarah Russell who explained how Sheba has helped to save her life over 100 times in the last 10 years.
‘She jumps on me in the bath and lifts my head above the water if I have a seizure there, she’s dragged me off roads and even moved me away from fires when I’ve collapsed near them,’ Sarah explained as Sheba eyed up the croissants in the green room. ‘She was a stray dog who we re-homed 10 years ago and she’s never had any training, but she just seems to instinctively know what to do.’
It really was an incredible story as while there are lots of dogs who can help people in this way, they have all had years of intensive training. To meet a dog who seems to do this highly complex and demanding role without any training at all is amazing and just goes to show how skilled, loyal and just downright fantastic dogs can be!
On the show, as well as describing Sheba’s amazing abilities, I also explained how dogs have also been shown to be able to alert people up to 45 minutes before they have a seizure. The exact mechanism for this is unclear but there are many dogs who seem to be able to anticipate their owner’s seizures and give them invaluable warning which allows them to prepare and minimise the impact of their condition. The most likely theory is that dogs sense minute changes in smell or behavioural cues that might be invisible to you or I and respond in some way such as pawing, barking or nuzzling their owners. There is a debate amongst epilepsy professionals about the true value of seizure alert dogs, but there are some very compelling cases that strongly support the theory that dogs really can predict seizures. A good example is the case of Hetty, a two-year-old golden retriever-Labrador cross, who has a 100 per cent success rate in predicting her owner Tony’s regular seizures allowing the 41-year-old to be in a safe place when they begin.
Uniquely Hetty is also a fully-fledged guide dog for Tony who has been registered blind for five years. “She’s a superdog,” says Tony from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, who was diagnosed with epilepsy in her 20s.
So there’s no doubt that dogs have amazing abilities, and responding to and detecting epileptic seizures is just another example of why dogs will always be man’s best friend