Medical Assistance Dogs May Be A Real Life Saver

Bill  Thompson, dog trainer and handler, who set up the charity, said, “This new idea has taken off very well in America. It is fully backed up by medical studies and is supported by the medical establishment in the US and in the UK and Ireland. In Northern Ireland I have already the support of professional GP’s, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers and Nurses. [caption id="attachment_21962" align="alignleft" width="267" caption="Newcastle man Paul Rooney, owner of Honey with Conor Campbell from Attical with his new medi-assistance dog, Maggie."][/caption] “Some dogs have a natural ability to sniff out subtle biological changes in a person’s condition and can signal this immediately. It can even be a life-saving matter for some people. “This is a totally new concept in the health care world in Northern Ireland. I have many years experience in dog obedience training and became involved in this work after training with the prestigous Facok9 organisation in America. I have been in constant contact with them since my initial training, and the Falco founder has even visited me in Northern Ireland. This area is highly specialised and takes a number of  years to train in. Our new centre in Ballykinlar will soon be open, and will provided opportunities for volunteers to get involved with the dogs in exercising them, grooming etc and generally socialising them. “This charity aims to train around 10 of these specialist dogs in the first year. The dogs will be trained at the new dedicated Ballykinlar centre for 18 months up to two years. After they are socialised from the puppy stage by our staff and volunteers and when they are ready, the dogs will be placed in a foster home for further socialisation. Then after a further careful selection process, the dog will be matched with a client who will have to be recommended by their GP initially and other health professionals. Dogs will normally have a working life with a person suffering from an illness of around 7-8 years. After their service they will then go back out into the community to loving and caring homes. “There are specialist breeders where we source the dogs from but they can come from other centres such as Assisi which deals with relocating dogs to new homes, the Council dog pound, and we even have looked at RNIB dogs which have not met their strict criteria of training. Some breeds are more suited to this line of work. We even have private individuals who have donated dogs. One such dog was donated from a Newcastle family some time ago and is now matched with a young owner. ” Northern Ireland Assistance Dogs has already trained a number of dogs and matched them with suitable owners. One delighted teenager from Attical, Conor Campbell, who suffers from a serious diabetes condition, received a golden retriever cross called Maggie. Conor said, “This is the first dog I have ever had and she is just great fun to have. But she is there to keep an eye on me. She is already trained but has more to do in the future. The type of diabetes I have can mean my blood sugar levels change quite quickly and it could be quite dangerous for me. In the past I have to have constant supervision from my family. “Maggie has a lovely temperament and as she is already obedience trained she is easy to handle. This means that I can now live a little more independently than before. But it is brilliant that we have ongoing support from Bill Thompson and I’m very grateful to the charity for finding me this quite unique dog. I’m just so happy about this.” [caption id="attachment_21965" align="alignright" width="269" caption="Conor Campbell from Attical who suffers from diabetes with his medi assitance dog Maggie."][/caption] Newcastle man Paul Rooney who donated Maggie to Northern Ireland Assistance Dogs said, “Bill is a friend of mine and when he was looking at a litter of pups I had from my Golden Retriever, Honey, he spotted one that stood out because of its tremendous sense of smell. Maggie was then trained up by Bill and I’m delighted that Conor is getting on so well with her. Maggie is crossed with my Bernese and both dogs have a very strong loyalty factor which adds to the role of the assistance dog.” Bill Thompson also added, “When you think that it could cost around £650 a day to keep someone in hospital if their condition deteriorated, having a trained assistance dog will prove to be a real benefit to the health system. The total cost to train a dog is around £15,000 in its working lifetime and it will provide for the health service a real return on investment.” The charity is already talking to Invest NI which is interested in the export potential of medi-assistance dogs, and they are receiving backing from other key agencies which will help to pave the way to a real success story for Co Down and for Northern Ireland. www.northernirelandassistance Other Strands Of Dog Detection Work Although Bill Thompson is primarily engaged with the assistance dogs charity, he has other strings to his bow that are equally as fascinating. He also trains dogs for bio-detection work. The implications of this may be very significant for the food industry, as the dogs are trained to sniff out down to a level of 0.0001ml which means they can sense for example EColi 0170/salmonella. He added, “The dogs just have to sniff over the package of food to detect the presence of these nasty harmful agents. Thy are trained to signal when they have a positive result. This could provide a major saving for the food industry and be the basis of a proactive measure to preventing the spread of dangerous foodstuffs, some of which may even be imported. “I already have a supporting letter from the Health and Safety Executive saying that should a serious outbreak occur that they would use my trained dogs. This can prevent much suffering and even save lives in the long term by detecting contaminated food produce. “We have trained three dogs in the US and we work closely with University College Davis in Los Angeles on this. In fact a major paper is about to be published on this subject. The cost of training of each dog is around $45,000. I would be the main handler for these. There is nowhere in the UK or Ireland where they dogs could be trained. The dogs have pet passports so will not be subject to quarantine restrictions. “I have spent six months training with Andy Falco, a leading light in the US. It is amazing that these bio-detection dogs can even help local farmers through the detection of badger droppings which when identified can be taken away and tested for TB. This has major implications for testing cattle with reactor tests. There is no-one out there who has trained dogs yet to be able to do this satisfactorily. I have been in discussion with the Department of Agriculture who are very supportive. This may eventually add to the bio-security of farms and be a major saving to the farmer, perhaps preventing the worst case scenario, a herd being put down.” Bill Thompson can be contacted at 07546337910 or 028 437 25863. e-mail:]]>