Fetch? Roll Over? Child's play. These amazing animals can sniff out low blood sugar, irregular heartbeats and epileptic seizures

By Bob Meadows
December 24, 2007 12:00 PM


SPECIAL POWER: Sniffs out low glucose

Two or three times a week, Krystle Samai’s sound sleep is interrupted by her dog Beverly plopping down. “I wake up to find the full weight of her right on top of me,” says the 22-year-old college student of her 55-lb. Labrador retriever. But bleary eyes—and a faceful of dog breath—are a small price to pay for her pet’s actions. Beverly is warning Samai that her blood glucose level is crashing and needs immediate attention.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9, Samai previously had little success fending off the seizures that can accompany low glucose levels—hypoglycemia—despite checking her blood up to 10 times a day and using an insulin pump. After one terrifying attack in 2006 at the University of California, Berkeley, where Samai majors in public health, she contacted Dogs for Diabetics, a nonprofit agency in Concord, Calif., that trains dogs to detect the subtle scent changes resulting from hypoglycemia. Eight months later, she was matched with Beverly—and hasn’t had a seizure since. Says Samai: “With Beverly, I feel empowered.”


SPECIAL POWER: Prevents her owner from fainting

Heart and asthma meds; epinephrine “pen.”

Massachusetts SPCA “Animal Hero Award” medal; a cell phone is attached to Adele’s harness handle.

While walking through an office building last September, Adele, a black Labrador retriever, nuzzled Marty Harris’s leg, a signal for her owner to sit. And for two long hours, Adele lay across Harris as she sat on a cold marble floor. “She wasn’t letting me get up for anything,” recalls Harris, 36, a homemaker from Boston.

And knowing Adele, Harris wasn’t going to move until the dog relented. Harris suffers from a severe case of vasovagal syncope, where the heart rate and blood pressure plummet, and had been fainting since elementary school. Medications prescribed by her cardiologist weren’t working; doctors also ruled out a pacemaker. The onset is undetectable to human senses, and yet Adele can sense trouble coming, for reasons that puzzle even her trainers at Canine Partners for Life, a nonprofit that places dogs with people with physical disabilities. “It’s one of the mysteries of dogs,” says CPL founder Darlene Sullivan.

Harris called CPL after seeing a TV show on dogs that can sense cancer. Since bringing home Adele in July 2006 (cost: $900), Harris has gone from fainting almost daily to passing out only once, when she ignored the dog’s warnings. Says her cardiologist Dr. James Januzzi: “It’s nothing short of miraculous.”


SPECIAL POWER: Senses epileptic seizures

When Chiper, a 57-lb. German shepherd-coonhound mix, first sensed that Candice Escandon was on the verge of an epileptic seizure, she would put her paws on her master’s shoulders, nudge her to the ground and protectively stand over her. That changed earlier this year when, instead of pushing, “she started giving me this intense stare, like the look a mom gives a child,” says Escandon, 23, a homemaker in Orlando. She believes Chiper noticed that she was pregnant and wanted to issue a gentler warning.

Need more proof of Chiper’s talents? One time the dog “literally pinned my left shoulder to the ground,” says Escandon. “I was going into another seizure, and she was making sure I wasn’t going to get up and collapse on the concrete floor.”

Escandon takes medication and uses an implanted electric stimulator to lessen the severity of her attacks. But she relies on Chiper, purchased from the nonprofit Canine Partners for Life for $300 in 2002, to make sure she’s lying down when they strike. “It’s good to know Candice always has somebody with her, that she’s never alone,” says her husband, Tim, 22, a paint technician. That includes accompanying the couple to amusement parks and even walking down the aisle at their 2005 wedding—special treats for a special dog. “She gives me independence,” says Escandon. “I know I’m safe.”