About how dogs help people with medical issues. Most of the dogs in this book are service dogs, though some are “just” beloved pets that learned intuitively how to help their owners, and others work purely in research. While a lot of these dogs can help people with physical tasks- opening the fridge, picking up dropped items, etc- they’re specifically trained in detecting issues before they become severe, preventing them from happening or helping the person recover, or giving emotional support to help people with mental health issues. Never again will I scoff internally at the idea of an “emotional support animal”- this book makes clear what a huge difference trained assistance dogs can make in people’s lives.
It starts on a different note, though- talking about cancer detection, with many anecdotal stories about dogs that kept poking a spot on a person’s body- later it was found they had cancer there. Now dogs are being trained to sniff samples and indicate the presence of cancer- while scientists are studying the molecular compounds of the positive samples to figure out exactly what the dogs are alerting to, so they can detect it earlier by other means. Then the book talks about dogs that alert to tell their owners an eplieptic seizure is imminent, or to alert diabetics to a dangerously high/low blood sugar level, or dogs that sense an oncoming panic attack and lead their human to a quieter, safer space. There’s even a dog in this book whose owner suffers from PTSD, who wakes him up if he’s having nightmares. Dogs that help children with autism stay calm. Dogs that help victims of catastrophe talk about what they experienced. Even dogs whose presence in a courtroom helps children feel brave enough to testify against those who harmed them. The book is just as much about how these dogs are trained (many were initially in programs to assist the blind but “failed” out of that and took a different career route) as it is about how much they’ve changed the lives of people they help. Also a lot about new studies and technology- pretty amazing to read about the FIDO vest prototype, which lets dogs trigger a computerized voice that can tell a stranger their owner needs help, or some other verbalized message. Also very interesting in here was to read of cases where dogs help people who have a very rare medical condition (most I’d never heard of), so service dogs aren’t regularly trained to assist with it, but trainers or family members found a way to let the dog know what to do. And the canines just seem to pick it up naturally- feeling anxious or unsettled when something goes wrong, and wanting to make things right again, seems to be the explanation.
As a side note, there was one part of this book that tidily dated it for me. In one chapter the author tells about dogs that sniff out dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals, to help staff keep the environment cleaner, and stop it from spreading. There was a sentence or two in there explaining what a PCR test is. I thought to myself: surely most people are aware of PCR testing? and then flipped to the copyright page, realized of course, this book was written pre-Covid.
Borrowed from the public library.