“Fetch my Meds”: how Gibson changed my life

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Duncan and Gibson

Duncan DeLooze was matched with Dogs for Good assistance dog Gibson last year. Their bond is incredibly strong, and Duncan’s life has changed for the better.

Duncan has a rare condition called ‘hemiplegic’ migraines which mimics a stroke. These migraines can also cause seizures which leave him unable to speak or swallow. Duncan can have as many as 20 to 25 seizures a month, which leave him paralysed for anything from a few hours to a couple of days. In rare cases, these attacks can be life-threatening if his tongue is affected.

Here, Duncan writes about life with Gibson…

Down in Somerset, Gibson seems to be enjoying his new-found local fame, after his stint on the local news and in the press. He has definitely become widely recognised; however, I am just the guy in the wheelchair who walks Gibbs! Recently Gibson has been learning to obey visual commands, including “Fetch my Meds”.

This is so when I lose the ability to speak during a Hemiplegic Migraine Gibson can still go and fetch my medication. Mind you as soon as my speech begins to become slurred and erratic, he is racing off to find my meds. What a dog. The earlier I take my medication – Naproxen and Oramorph – the less severe the Hemiplegic attack.

Jane, my Instructor from Dogs for Good, recently came up with a great solution for when I struggle during a Hemiplegic migraine, to say the command “fetch my Meds”. She told me that you can buy small heptagonal shaped buttons which have small voice recorders inside. They are specifically aimed at helping children with speech impediments and language difficulties. So, after Jane’s last visit I ordered a voice recorder button online. It now has a soundtrack of me saying “fetch my meds”, several times.

I have to admit when I first played it to Gibson, he just looked at me like I had lost my mind!

We all know that look our dogs can frequently give us…the one which says, “you’re nuts” and questions how much farther down the food chain you are, compared to your super-hound. The look which says “Dad, you have got to be kidding me”! Anyway, after some initial encouragement and multiple tasty treats, Gibson will now fetch my meds when I press the button. Ok, for a while I still had to say “fetch my meds” at the same time…but progress is progress.

Gibbs is an extremely fast learner and now when he hears the button saying “fetch my meds” or for that matter anyone else mention the word MEDS, he is rushing off upstairs to retrieve my medication from my bedside.

It still amazes me, when Gibson seems to sense when I am about to have a Hemiplegic migraine attack and brings me my medication without me asking for it. I must make a certain sound or there is change in chemical smell, whatever the cause the result is fewer and less frequently severe migraines.

A full-blown attack leaves me unable to speak, completely paralysed down my right-hand side, confused and disorientated, struggling to see and sometimes suffering with a seizure and unable to swallow, along with a catastrophic and debilitating headache. These symptoms and attacks can last hours or even for days, sometimes happen multiple times in a row. From this it is easy to see how much Gibson impacts my life in a very positive way.

To this day, Gibson is so in tune with my health that his ability to fetch my medication has become virtually instinctual. He has such a close bond with me that frequently no command, signal or press of the button is necessary. He possesses an innate talent, where he automatically knows I need help. Occasionally the cleaner or one my carers presses the button by mistake…off Gibson runs to fetch my meds!

I am now intrigued to see how many voice-command buttons I can program for Gibbs to respond to. He already knows the names to half a dozen toys, which he will fetch when a particular name is mentioned. I have also now begun teaching Gibson visual commands for when I lose the ability to speak during a Hemiplegic episode. I am currently trying to figure out the best signal for “fetch my meds”…suggestions on a postcard!

My assistance dog – life-changer – from Dogs for Good is constantly evolving and developing new ways to help his daddy live a better life. No wonder Dog is God spelt backwards.

For more information about Dogs for Good, visit www.dogsforgood.org

This is a guest essay by Duncan DeLooze. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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