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Dog’s Sharp Sense of Smell Helps Predict Medical Emergencies

By David13676 @dogspired

Sadie and her service dog, BaileyBefore you get to know him, Bailey the service dog looks more like a purse decoration.

He’s a papillon, kind of like a Chihuahua with diva hair. Just last year, Bailey was one more unwanted pet in an online classified. Then he got his break. A West Palm Beach dog-training duo spotted him and brought him here for several months of intense prep work.

Bailey’s talent was spectacular. If you’re about to have a vertigo attack, Bailey knows. If you’re about to have a migraine, Bailey knows. How? Who knows?

On a recent afternoon, the Sun Sentinel spent a day immersed in the little-understood world of alert dogs. Some people — the ones with diabetes or vertigo or seizures — live every day dependent on the mysterious vigilance of their animals. Their sharp sense of smell can not only find bombs and drugs, it can predict medical emergencies and even identify cancer.

“He knows more about you than you know about you,” said Shoshana Rappaport, a dog trainer who employs two of her own service dogs, Macy and Milo, for her deafness and vertigo. She and her partner, Melissa Dolinsky, who also trains birds at the Palm Beach Zoo, worked with Bailey.

A few months ago, while training at the airport, the whirling baggage carousel triggered Rappaport’s vertigo. Bailey stopped what he was doing (just being a dog) and started jumping on Rappaport. He even beat Milo, the weathered veteran, to the alert. Bailey’s not even a year old.

It all has to do with smells. Dogs can pick out chemical changes from our breath and sweat. But that’s about the extent of what people know. The dogs won’t give up their secrets.

“The best way I can really explain it is it’s magic,” says Debra Berger, executive director of Canine Assisted Therapy, Inc., in Oakland Park.

Once, Berger brought Rappaport’s dog, Macy, to a preschool to work with a class of autistic children. The kids ran the spectrum, from mild autism to severe, she said. One little boy was so profoundly autistic, he had never said a word and never made eye contact with anyone.

His teacher stroked the boy’s hand along Macy’s back. By the time they were done, the boy had made eye contact with three people and uttered “dog.” Two other people verified the story. No one could explain it.

But it’s not a quack science. The research is scant, much of it from the United Kingdom; however, there have been enough studies and compelling anecdotes to prove dogs actually are qualified to test certain vital functions.

Cats, not so much. Sorry.

Dolphins, though, are said to have skills not unlike an ultrasound. Dolinsky, the service dog/bird trainer, says she has helped to free several stranded dolphins. A colleague was with her once, and the dolphin kept buzzing at her.

“She knew she was pregnant but hadn’t announced it,” Dolinsky said.

The rough-toothed dolphin blew her cover.

Rappaport and Dolinsky were walking around downtown West Palm Beach on Friday with Bailey and Sadie Jensen, an 18-year-old girl who expects to take Bailey home with her to Oregon if she can round up the $4,500 cost.

You have to get the dog and owner on the same page for a few days. So they were practicing at shops, on public transportation and, worst of all, in restaurants.

“Would you like to sit outside?” the host asked at a hamburger joint. It was pushing 90 out there, a scorcher.

“No, we’ll take a booth,” Dolinsky said.

They’re used to those kinds of questions.

There was no telling what the food could do to Jensen’s blood sugar. Jensen isn’t diabetic. She has hypoglycemia unawareness, which means she could pass out anytime without warning.

“My pancreas is a drama queen,” she says.

Dogs aren’t always perfect in their alerts, but training can make them better. In Bailey’s case, he was trained with blood samples from a diabetic.

The warnings are not Lassie warnings. Barking is bad. It annoys people at Starbucks. Rather, Bailey gives a little nudge, maybe an insistent paw.

Naomi Deal trains dogs at Diabetic Alert Dogs of Florida in Crestview. She’s full of stories about animals doing incredible things. One dog told a friend’s friend she had breast cancer. Another knew when her owner’s blood pressure was falling. The dog, she said, must have been listening to the sound of her circulatory system.

Deal believes some dogs are better at this kind of magic than others.

But she has a theory: It’s not just the Baileys of this world who can do it. Most dogs have a special connection to their owners, she said, and they’re trying to tell us.

“It’s common,” she said, as a matter of fact. “We just don’t know how to listen to our dogs.”

~ Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

Tags: blood sugar dog, diabetic alert, diabetic alert dog, dog senses, service dog

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