Assistance Dog Pip works as a diabetic alert dog, trained to sniff low blood sugar!
For three decades, Dunedin-based nurse Brenda Ferguson lived with what she describes as little-to-no independence, due to an anomaly with her type 1 diabetes. The arrival of Assistance Dog Pip changed everything.
The vast majority of people living with type 1 diabetes experience warning signs such as dizziness or shakiness when their blood sugar drops. Brenda however, has a unique complication known as hypoglycemia unawareness, where her blood sugar drops rapidly with zero physical warning.
This has caused serious challenges for Brenda over the years as it makes her instantly unconscious, resulting in multiple broken bones and falls. But perhaps most crippling was her lack of independence. To keep herself safe, friends and family needed to know where she was at all times.
Everything changed when Brenda learned about assistance dogs through her endocrinologist at Dunedin Hospital. She applied for a dog, and 18 months later, following interviews and fundraising, she was paired with her “guardian angel” Pip.
Pip is trained to smell a pheromone in Brenda’s breath that indicates when her blood sugar is dropping. If Brenda’s glucose levels are getting low, he will alert her with a nudge or bring her testing equipment to her lap. He can also take the telephone off its base and bring it to Brenda if she needs assistance.
Brenda says Pip has changed her life. She hasn’t had a single broken bone from collapsing in the five years she’s had him. The stress on her body is much less because her blood sugars are better regulated. She has total independence, no longer feeling like a burden to her friends and family.
Since having Pip, Brenda has also experienced first-hand a broad lack of public understanding about assistance dogs. She says many people mistake Pip for a guide dog and assume she is blind, or cast judgement on her for having a dog because her disability isn’t physically obvious.
Our appeal week is not only an important week for raising much-needed funds, but it also brings awareness to the needs of 'invisible disabilities', and the challenges clients like Brenda face every day. We hope through telling the stories of our incredible families, people will learn just how transformative an Assistance Dog can be for people with a surprisingly wide range of disabilities.