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'Good Dog!' Canines Take on Important Medical Jobs

11-05-2019
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Dr. Dogs

Dogs are becoming valuable assets in the world of medicine. They are now being trained to detect deadly diseases in a way no human or machine can. They're also being used to help people with debilitating medical conditions live independent lives.

Danielle's Ticket to Freedom

23-year-old Danielle Brooks can now live on her own, attend graduate school and even travel internationally, thanks to her service dog, Rollo. He helps Danielle manage her sleep disorders including Cataplexy, which can cause her to suddenly collapse.

"After laughing with friends in the driveway I got a concussion," she told CBN News, "And that was the final straw for me of accepting I needed more help than just medication."

Rollo tunes in to Danielle so closely he can actually sense an impending episode.

"He'll tell me before that, or tell me that my heart rate is getting too high, so I need to rest and take a break and sit down," she said. 

Before Rollo entered her life, Danielle feared how her Narcolepsy, which suddenly causes her to fall asleep, prevented her from living independently.

She remembers worrying, "What if I fall asleep on the bus and miss my stop?"

Now it's not a problem. Rollo can wake up Danielle when she nods off or if she sleeps through her alarm.

He also picks things up for her, such as shoes or dropped car keys. He even opens doors for her. Since Danielle tires easily, these little conveniences add up to a big help because it saves Danielle valuable energy throughout the day. 

"He also can load and unload things into the washing machine, but he hasn't figured out how to fold yet," she smiled.

Doctor Dogs

Dogs are performing important work in the world of medicine. The different kinds of jobs are almost endless. Turns out, canines can handle just about anything.

Nobody knows that better than Maria Goodavage. As a researcher, she documents cutting edge examples in her book, Doctor Dogs: How our Best Friends are Becoming Our Best Medicine.

"I love seeing the dog-human bond," she told CBN News, "But when dogs save lives there's just nothing like it."

Clay Ronk, a Type-1 diabetic relies on his dog Whitley to warn him twenty minutes before his devices indicate low blood sugar, which could possibly put Clay into a diabetic coma. 

When anxiety overcomes Kit, such as when she's in a busy shopping mall, her dog Angus can sense it and calms her down immediately and leads her out of a stressful situation when Kit feels too overwhelmed to do so. 

Molly, who lives with a Schizoaffective Disorder, is one of many people who believes she owes her life to her service dog. Molly struggles with self-harm, such as cutting. However, her dog Hank puts his paws on Molly's arm when he senses she's going to cut them and stops her. 

Additionally, Molly sometimes sees people who aren't present. Hank helps Molly determine which people she sees are real and which ones aren't. Turns out, Hank has never met a stranger. He's so friendly, he greets everyone he sees. Molly understands that if Hank ignores a person she thinks is present, that person must be a hallucination, otherwise, Hank would say 'hello.'

Intense Training

Doctor Dogs require targeted training. They're motivated to learn with positive reinforcement such as treats, toys, and praise.

These techniques allow dogs to learn brand new ways of communicating with humans. Some dogs are being trained to dial 9-1-1 on special keypads while others are learning how to get help and activate recorded voice commands on their vests such as, "Follow me! My owner needs help!"

"I think it's just going to lead to a whole new world, a whole new future, for us," Goodavage said.

Sniffing Out Disease

Dogs can smell sickness, oftentimes in a way that's superior to modern technology. For instance, dogs are being used in some healthcare facilities to detect drug-resistant bacteria, also known as 'superbugs.

Residents of the Japanese town of Kaneyama have some of the highest stomach cancer mortality rates in the country. Dogs are being used there to possibly detect cancer by smelling it, even before a patient exhibits any symptoms.

"Their sense of smell is so much more sensitive than ours," Goodavage explained, "We have about six million olfactory receptors. Dogs have 300 million. They can smell in parts per trillion, which is like a tablespoon of a substance in the equivalent of two Olympic swimming pools." 

For those who are interesting in acquiring a service dog, Goodavage issues this warning. 

"There are a lot of great organizations out there and they produce really good dogs. There are some organizations out there that are really well-meaning that might produce good dogs. They may not. They try. And then there are some that are just out there to make a buck."

She advises people to conduct thorough research on organizations specializing in service dog training to include as many first-hand references as possible. 

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