‘Amazing’ dog keeps owner safe

Brenda Ferguson says her assistance dog Pip is a life-saver. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Brenda Ferguson says her assistance dog Pip is a life-saver. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Most people get love and companionship from their pets, but Brenda Ferguson’s assistance dog is also a life-saver.

She has a form of type 1 diabetes that means changes can happen rapidly.

Many living with type 1 diabetes experience warning signs such as dizziness or shakiness when their blood sugar drops.

But Ms Ferguson has a complication known as hypoglycemia unawareness which means her blood sugar can drop rapidly with no physical warning.

That is where her assistance dog Pip (7) comes to the rescue.

‘‘Pip is amazing.’’

The black labrador is trained to smell a pheromone in Brenda’s breath that indicates when her blood sugar is dropping.

He can alert Ms Ferguson with a nudge or bring her testing equipment to her lap.

Pip can even take the telephone off its base and bring it to her if she needs assistance.

‘‘His alert for me is he will nudge me, paw me, lick me, continuously annoy the heck out of me and that gives me time to get my jelly beans, my sweet juice carton.’’

Before Pip came into her life five years ago there had been a number of close calls, including police finding her unconscious and emergency visits to hospital for bruising and broken bones.

Since she has had Pip she still had the occasional hospital visit but nothing to the extent of being unconscious.

‘‘His success rate is pretty amazing. In the five years I’ve had him I’ve had no unconscious periods and no broken bones from collapsing with my blood sugar dropping.’’

Pip was even able to detect from a distance.
‘‘He will be outside and come flying through the door at a thousand miles an hour. His nose is totally amazing.’’

Ms Ferguson first found out about assistance dogs through her endocrinologist at Dunedin Hospital.

She applied to Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust for a dog, and after 18 months was matched with Pip.

‘‘He is my guardian angel,’’ Ms Ferguson said.

Assistance Dogs NZ Trust chairwoman Sinead Horgan said the trust serviced about 40 clients around New Zealand and had 16 puppies in training.

But with over 60 people on their waiting list, it would be more than five years before some were able to receive an assistance dog.

The only way to address this need was to increase training capacity and the number of dogs graduating each year.

‘‘The trust doesn’t receive any government funding, and is funded solely by generous donations, sponsors such as The Lindsay Foundation, trusts and individual donors, including our puppy sponsorship programme.

‘‘That’s why our annual appeal week is critical to further our plans to engage more dog trainers and ramp up our breeding programme, ultimately serving the unique needs of the disabled community,’’ Mrs Horgan said.

Assistance Dogs NZ Trust’s 2021 Appeal Week starts today and runs until next week.

With the disruption caused by Covid-19, the charity had to cancel its planned street collections and focus on online donations.

‘‘Street collections are crucial for charities, and the Covid-19 lockdowns severely jeopardise our fundraising income.

‘‘Now we are completely reliant on online donations to reach our target,’’ Mrs Horgan said.

The trust’s fundraising goal was $75,000 — the cost of placing a dog and the 1.5 to 2 years it took to train them.

Each client was asked to raise $20,000 towards their dog.

They often achieved this through fundraising efforts, in addition to covering large medical bills and full or part-time care, she said.

To give visit assistancedogstrust.org.nz

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