When widower Pam Mansfield slipped into a life-threatening diabetic coma, there was only her German Shepherd around to save her, writes Joanne Bednall.
Wherever Pam Mansfield goes, her dog Gypsy is never far from her side — which is just as well seeing as the 69-year-old animal lover is adamant her constant canine companion saved her life early one morning last November.
“Gypsy is the most loving dog in the world,” explained Pam, whose German Shepherd regularly rubs shoulders with more than 250 unwanted rare and unusual pets, including monkeys, silver foxes, meerkats, a lynx, and even an alligator called George, where she lives at the Exotic Pet Refuge in Deeping St James, Lincolnshire.
“I live on my own and Gypsy is with me 100 per cent of the time — I can’t even go to the toilet without her following me there!”
But if it hadn’t been for the six-year-old dog’s total devotion to her owner, Pam probably wouldn’t be here today to tell the tale.
“I’d felt fine and gone to bed around 11pm, with Gypsy sleeping at the foot of my bed as usual,” remembered Pam, who suffers from angina and asthma and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 25 years ago prior to an operation.
Pam, whose interest in exotic pets was sparked by owning a python more than 40 years ago, recalls being in a deep sleep and suddenly becoming aware of Gypsy trying to rouse her sometime around 4am.
“I heard a strange whining noise and felt Gypsy licking my face,” said Pam, who was unable to have a dog of her own as a child because her father had chronic asthma, but has since made up for it in the ensuing years by owning a Manchester Terrier, German Shepherds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, cross-breeds, Labradors, a Poodle, and a Dobermann.
“The next thing I knew was that Gypsy had jumped on the bed and was standing over me — she has never done that before. I felt so tired, but she wouldn’t let me go back to sleep and sat on me to make sure I woke up. I’ve had hypos in the past when my blood sugar level has been too low, but I’ve never been in a diabetic coma before — if Gypsy hadn’t woken me up, there’s no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be here now.”
Unable to think straight at first, let alone move, Pam eventually managed to reach across to her bedside cabinet and fumble around for the half bar of chocolate she keeps in there for emergencies such as this.
“It was a horrible sensation and I felt dreadful,” continued Pam, who started feeling a little better after eating the chocolate and perked up further while drinking a cup of coffee containing four spoonfuls of sugar.
Still trembling, Pam did a finger prick test and discovered her reading was very low — 2 mmol/L, when a normal person’s blood glucose range is 3.5 – 5.5 mmol/L before meals. Gypsy remained by Pam’s side throughout, sticking to her like glue.
“There’s no reason I can think of why my blood sugar level was so low — maybe I’d not eaten enough the day before — but it took me four hours to get over it,” added Pam, who normally manages her condition effectively with a daily injection and six tablets.
A vet has since told her that Gypsy would have been able to smell ketones — a harmful substance created if the body does not get enough glucose — on her breath, which has an odour similar to that of pear drops.
Experiencing such a frightening episode has prompted Pam to think back to another time when her intuitive dog’s behaviour was out of character.
“About three years ago, I’d suffered a hypo at the top of the stairs and Gypsy had stood in front of me refusing to budge. She wouldn’t let me go downstairs, and thinking about it now, I realise she must have sensed that I was unsteady on my feet and was at risk of falling. Perhaps she detected the same smell then, too?”
Pam is so proud of her “one in a million” dog, and says that she is convinced Gypsy is training her 18-month-old Labrador, Layla, to follow in her paw prints.
“Since my hypo, it seems like they are now taking it in turns to look after me,” she said. “Gypsy will sleep in the bedroom one night and the landing the next, swapping with Layla, who then guards me.
“In this day and age when so many things seem miserable, it’s lovely to have a story like this with a happy ending,
“Gypsy is my life — I idolise her. We’ve always had a strong bond but her actions have definitely brought us even closer together. She’s so perceptive and intelligent and knows me inside out — she’ll do anything for me.”
In fact, it’s hard to believe that six years ago Pam didn’t want a German Shepherd, but on seeing a three-week-old litter in a stable, her heart melted. When one of the pups made a wobbly beeline for her, sat on her knee and licked her face, she knew Gypsy would be coming home with her.
“She’s such a beautiful-looking dog and loves everyone — she’s as soft as grease and hasn’t got a nasty bone in her body,” concluded Pam.
“I’ve never had a dog like her and I’m so glad she picked me — it was meant to be.”