Four-legged, always on hand and simply beastly good: assistance dogs support people with illnesses from A to Z to master their everyday lives – often at a vital level. However, there is a lack of information about the furry companions in many places because, despite having a state-recognised badge, their owners are still regularly told: “No dogs allowed!”
The interview with Marielle Rollmann and Roberto Tralci started with a faux pas. Out of reflex, not only the couple was greeted, but also their two companions: Sunny and Lex, their assistance dogs. “Please don’t touch or talk to them”, says Marielle. The 41-year-old regularly has to explain how to deal with her four-legged partner in a friendly, but determined manner, as there is a great deal of ignorance in Luxembourg. “It is important to explain that these are assistance dogs and not ordinary family dogs because in many cases, it’s not obvious right away”, explains Erik Kersting, dog trainer and behavioural consultant for service dogs.
A distraction of the animals by outsiders or other dogs does not mean annoying cuddles from strangers for their owners, but can lead to dangerous situations because the dogs often have a vital task. “For Marielle, for example, as a diabetic, it is extremely important that the dog is constantly focused on her in order to detect hyper- or hypoglycaemia at an early stage. If it doesn’t notice the moment because his attention has been drawn to something else, this can quickly become life-threatening for its owner”, says Kersting.
Life-saving warning before the seizure
Assistance dogs are an indispensable part of their everyday life for many people because many situations would be difficult to master without the four-legged friends. “They accompany people with various illnesses. Guide dogs or wheelchair users with dogs are familiar, but there are also medical response dogs for diabetics, people with epilepsy or autism”, explains Marielle and is joined by Kersting: “Post-traumatic stress disorders, as well as all kinds of mental illnesses and heart disease also belong on the list.”
The trainer has been travelling the world for years to lecture at university programmes on the subject of assistance dogs and to train them, because not every dog fits every clinical picture. “Alert dogs for epileptics, for example, are trained with the client because it is important for the animal to recognise and indicate seizures. Dogs learn very quickly to signal when a seizure is about to occur based on smell and body language.” On average, an epileptic seizure could be noticeable twelve hours in advance – an ability that could save lives. “The dogs make epilepsy predictable, those affected couldn’t wish for a greater luxury”, says Kersting.
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