Pet ownership has countless mental and physical health benefits and is estimated to save the NHS £2.45 billion a year. However, this special Medical Detection Dog has gone above and beyond for his owner.
Eight-year-old Labrador Pal was awarded the PDSA Order of Merit – the animal equivalent of the OBE – by veterinary charity PDSA at a special ceremony in Leeds Castle, Kent, on 17 April. Pal has been trained to detect changes in blood sugar levels for his diabetic owner, Claire Pearson.
During his seven year career, he has alerted her to over 12,000 separate blood-sugar changes. If not caught in time, these could have killed her. Pal’s interventions have prevented countless NHS emergency call-outs and resulted in fewer hospital admissions for Claire.
Commenting on the award, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said, “Pal has spent six years protecting Claire’s wellbeing. It is clear that a special bond exists between the two of them and this incredible life-enhancing devotion makes Pal a most worthy recipient of the PDSA Order of Merit.”
Claire Pearson has lived with Type 1 Brittle Diabetes since birth. But her life, and her family’s lives, changed dramatically when she fell seriously ill with end-stage renal failure in 2003. This meant she needed a pancreas and kidney transplant, and faced dialysis three times a week.
Claire was rendered unable to tell when she was hypoglycaemic (hypo), which meant that her young children would often return home from primary school to find her collapsed. Her health diagnosis plunged her into severe depression and she was later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – a side-effect of being told she had a life-limiting condition. She was left with little confidence and unable to leave the house on her own.
In the depths of despair, Claire saw an advert for Medical Detection Dogs and applied for assistance. In 2012, Claire was introduced to 16-month-old Labrador, Pal, and their remarkable relationship began. Pal’s ability to smell chemical changes in Claire’s breath has prevented her from falling into hypo-induced comas on countless occasions.
Discussing Pal’s abilities, Claire said, “He is trained to fetch my blood sugar monitor, glucose, insulin and will even bring me my phone if I need it. If I’m too ill to help myself, Pal will fetch someone or push our panic button at home, which alerts the emergency services.”
In addition, Pal has accompanied Claire to all her dialysis sessions for five years, helping to keep her calm and happy as she undergoes treatment.
“Having Pal gave me the confidence to leave the house again,” explained Claire. “I started joining local fundraising activities and even giving talks about how wonderful Pal is and how he’s helped me reclaim my life. It was truly life-changing and I can never repay him for giving me peace of mind, knowing that my boys wouldn’t face coming home from school to find me dangerously ill.”
After receiving a life-changing kidney and pancreas transplant, Claire is no longer a diabetic, but Pal has continued to look after Claire – alerting her to changes in her blood sugar which could indicate early-stage organ rejection. Claire explains, “Since the transplant, on two occasions Pal has alerted me and when I’ve called the hospital, they have asked me to head straight in. Both times it turned out that my body was starting to act against my new pancreas, so Pal continues to save me to this day!
“I hope he will be able to retire soon. He is certainly slowing down now that he doesn’t need to watch me so closely and is enjoying lots more naps and sleepy cuddles than he did before my transplant.”
PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, added, “Pal’s intelligence, skill and unstinting devotion to Claire has truly transformed her life and the lives of her family. His loyalty exemplifies why we love and respect animals as we do. Pal is a thoroughly deserving recipient of the PDSA Order of Merit.”
Claire said, “I am beyond proud of my amazing furry boy for what he has done for me and my family. He gave my sons their childhood back and gave me a whole new lease of life. His PDSA Order of Merit goes some way to showing him how much he means to our family and I hope that his story inspires others that are in the position I was in, that things can get better, with the love and talents of a clever pooch like Pal.”
Images by PDSA