A little help from (four-legged) friends

Published 9:04 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2015

By Frank Roberts

A dog can track a criminal; it can detect small amounts of drugs; it can disarm an armed subject without any commands; it can detect cancer in humans. A dog will protect private property, and it can learn more than 100 voice commands.

A cat knows how to use a litter box.

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It’s amazing the things dogs and other animals can do for us.

Caroline, a 13-year-old girl who is a member of the church I attend, is never seen without her golden retriever, a handsome, loving animal. The dog is trained to detect problems connected to diabetes.

Recently, the animal alerted friends of a man who was standing nearby. It seems he was about to have a diabetic attack. The dog “knew” what was going on and alerted bystanders before anything bad had happened.

According to Caroline’s mom, Leah, the animal is also aware of emotional issues.

Getting the Midwestern dog to its new home was costly but, obviously, well worth it. Horses are sometimes used for the same purpose. “But,” Leah said, “a lot of kids have problems with horses.”

An organization called Diabetes Assist Dogs trains its animals to monitor odors in the air for a scent on the human breath that is related to rapidly dropping or low blood sugar levels.

Then, the dogs are trained to alert the person with diabetes, usually by touching her in a significant way such as pawing or nudging her. This alerts the person to check his or her blood sugar level before the problem becomes dangerous.

DAD animals wear a backpack identifying them as assistance canines. According to information from the organization, those backpacks have pockets containing medical information.

The animal’s training begins at puppy-hood, when the dogs are checked for their willingness to work, and their noses are evaluated for sensitivity. When all looks well and good, their scent training begins.

“A person experiencing hypoglycemia produces a particular scent that’s found on the breath due to the body’s chemical changes,” according to DAD. “Our training methods are similar to those used to train drug-sniffing, or search-and-rescue dogs that are trained to find people.”

Steve Lane, who owns Radio Cafe Hertford, which carries my broadcasts, has long been a part of that scenario, working with his Weimaraner, Dakota, and that piqued my interest, even though the animal has long been away from the scene. When he was active, he would be called to go all over the country.

You know about the magnificent seeing eye dogs. In one case, it’s dogs working for dog. Jessica VanHusen, of Waterford, Mich., has two healthy dogs that have been trained to help a 10-year-old blind dog. She gets around with the help of her canine friends. She suffered from glaucoma and had to have her eyes removed. The three dogs are Akitas.

There is also the case of a 2-year-old dog that leads his blind canine friend on a leash that he carries in his mouth.

The two animals are inseparable.

And, believe it or not, monkeys, ferrets, parrots, and pigs can do similar work. Well, I said “believe it or not,” so, you’re on your own.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.