13 May 2013

NZ Soon Will Have Diabetes Response Dog

This has taken me awhile to check out, but it is for real and New Zealand will shortly have its first trained diabetes response dog. Service dogs are not new to New Zealand, but there are dogs for the blind, hearing impaired, and for mobility or disability assistance.

In researching the topic of service dogs in New Zealand, I found out that they have dogs for security, police dogs, and other service dogs. New Zealand is up front in their rules and regulations more than the USA and very clear about who is in charge and the procedures to be followed. The USA is obtuse and too lenient with their regulations. There are rules for flying on New Zealand's airlines, for entering the country (importing) your service dog and what must be done beforehand.

The dogs for diabetes resulted after Merenia Donne was injured in a serious car accident. She established a charity to train disability assistance dogs because her dog saved her life by pulling her from the wreckage. The charity, “the Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa has been training dogs to help people deal with a range of conditions including agoraphobia, autism, OCD and Parkinson's.”

The Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa is not yet reflected on the list of approved organizations for certifying service dogs, but this does not mean it may not be approved. This New Zealand government website lists the regulations for assistance dogs. Once trained, two-year-old German shepherd 'Uni' will be able to smell abnormal blood sugar levels.

Merenia Donne said in talking about characteristics for a diabetic response dog, “What you look for is a dog that's a very busy dog and a dog that likes to use its nose. So they're are little bit a kin to training a dog for drug detection, and explosives and various other things like...search and rescue dogs, so the training follows some of the principles. You need a dog that's willing and happy to use its nose all day everyday, but in doing so, to focus just on that one very important key sense."

Ms Donne says the dog can then take steps to alert the person or seek assistance.
"They will have a rubber rod or a toy that hangs from their collar and they're taught to grasp it as they sense a change in blood chemistry," she said. "That it will give a clear signal to the person who's beginning to go into a hypoglycaemic event. If it's progressed beyond that point, and the person is incoherent...then what the dog is also trained to do is to push an alarm button or to go and find someone."

Ms Donne says 'Uni' is in the final six-months of training - a process which costs around $NZ50,000 or USD equivalent of $41,455.

Some links that may be interesting about service dogs in New Zealand -