A graduate of the charity Medical Detection Dogs, Bounce is a five-year-old black Labrador with a life-saving nose, as Isabel George discovers.
For the past three years, Bounce has been 19-year-old Harrison Daley’s diabetes detection dog; his constant companion at college, while out with friends, at musical theatre groups, and with his family at home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.
“Having Bounce has not only made me feel more secure, he has all-round changed my life,” said Harrison. “I’m not the same person I used to be because Bounce won’t let me hide away any more. He gives me confidence when we’re out, and because he is such a massive people-magnet I can’t avoid talking to everyone who walks up to us. They want to meet him and ask me about him, and I never mind telling them that Bounce is not only one incredible dog, he is also my life-saving best friend.”
Harrison was diagnosed with diabetes when he was seven years old. It was triggered by a severe asthma attack, which heralded the start of a difficult and isolating time. At primary school, a daily routine of lunchtimes spent checking his blood sugar levels and being monitored by teachers, instead of playing with his friends, transferred to secondary school.
Things came to a head four years ago, when Harrison had his fi rst diabetic seizure while on a country walk with his family. “I don’t remember anything after hitting the ground,” he recalled. “But I came around to paramedics working hard to control what was happening to me, and the worried faces of my family looking over me. After that, everything got really, really scary. I was afraid to go out in case I collapsed again.”
Harrison suffered two more seizures: one in Birmingham on a school trip, knocking himself out, and another at home. He was struggling to balance the asthma and the diabetes and his mother, Stephanie, was battling to get her 15-year-old son everything he needed medically to feel safe at school and confident enough to enjoy some quality of life. “I discovered that the best help and advice often comes from parents who have travelled this path before you,” said Stephanie. “At that dreadfully worrying time, networking and having help from the online support group was invaluable and it’s where I first heard of the UK charity Medical Detection Dogs. And I will be forever grateful.
“After completing the paperwork and registering to be considered for a medical alert assistance dog, I told Harrison that we would need to be patient, but, hopefully, he would have a dog very soon. I remember him saying to me: ‘So, he would be my best friend, wouldn’t he?’, and I cried. Right then, I realised how isolated and anxious this illness had made my son.” Harrison and Stephanie were well aware that it could take up to two years to find a canine match, not just because the specialist dogs take time to train, but because matching with a teenager, rather than a child or an adult, was, at the time, unusual. But the arrival of Bounce in their lives made the wait worthwhile.
Bounce is trained specifically to work alongside diabetics to detect the onset of dangerously low or high blood sugar levels. What Bounce and dogs like him are capable of is literally life-saving, because they not only detect a blood sugar level of 4 or below (which risks hypoglycaemia — a ‘hypo’) or a high of 10.8 or more, they also pre-warn their human partner of a potential collapse, which gives them time to reach a safe place, take insulin or a form of fast-acting glucose as appropriate, and so avoid injury.
When Harrison first met Bounce, he was aware that the dog was on his second attempt at a partnership, but it was clear to everyone present at MDD’s headquarters in Milton Keynes that Bounce had found his match this time. In line with the charity’s rigorous process, the dog not only had to be right for Harrison, but also had to be happy in the household, and so Bounce had a trial week with Harrison at home. And that was it — partnership sealed.
Bounce, now aged five, is enjoying life as Harrison’s wingman. Wearing his distinctive red MDD coat, he is a popular sight around town and in college; wherever Harrison is, there is Bounce at his side, providing protection by remaining alert to the ‘smell’ of his partner’s blood sugar levels. “Everyone I know is aware of the reason why I have Bounce with me and that he is a working dog. But he is also a dog who loves his food and loves joining in,” said Harrison. “I can honestly say that my dog ate my homework — because he took it from my hand in class, right in front of the tutor. I also have to remind people not to leave their lunch at Labrador height or they’ll lose it! And now my dog gets his own seat at the theatre when I’m in a show (Harrison is a member of the Jigsaw Theatre Group). This dog is a legend!”
The incredible ability of dogs like Bounce is reflected in the facts: in the last 12 months, the charity’s medical alert assistance dogs, partnered with diabetics, alerted to a combined 14,691 episodes of low blood glucose levels. If each episode had required a visit to hospital emergency departments it would have cost the NHS up to £1,183,360.
Gemma Butlin, speaking on behalf of Medical Detection Dogs said: “Now more than ever our amazing dogs are saving lives by alerting our clients to a range of conditions and so keeping them out of hospital and reducing the strain on our wonderful NHS.”
On the day Harrison was introduced to Bounce. he imagined the excitement of having an alert dog in his life: “I said to myself: ‘Here comes a dog who can help me do a lot of things I could never do before’ and it’s true. Before Bounce, the only warning I had of a diabetic seizure was the shaking and sweating, but now I don’t feel anything because my dog is ahead of the game. If he stares at me, I know he has detected a high or low blood sugar level ahead of the ‘hypo’ stage. At home he will even fetch my insulin kit. So, he warns me and saves me all in one. Without him, I would just collapse, like before.
“My diabetes is for life, day and night, but with Bounce I can cope. I can live my life, and I can look after him and make sure he has fun too. He also takes the pressure off my mum, so she can relax in a way she could never do before he arrived. Now Bounce warns me and even wakes me if he detects a problem. I know that he is always right beside me. Thanks to Bounce, I’m not afraid to go to sleep any more.”