Friday, August 20, 2021

Doctor Dogs: How Our Best Friends Are Becoming Our Best Medicine, by Maria Goodavage (author), Suzanne Elise Freeman (narrator)

Maria Goodavage, October 2019

This is a really enjoyable and informative look at the expanding roles dogs are playing in human health care around the world.

It starts with dogs who are learning to sniff cancer in humans. This is something that started with people's own pets alerting to Something Very Wrong in some part of their owner's body, with the "something wrong" proving to be cancer. It took a while before anecdotal accounts of such incidents began to get the attention of doctors and medical researchers willing and able to follow up on it. This led to to testing dogs on samples that either did, or did not, contain samples of cancer. 

This hasn't, and isn't likely to, lead to dogs in doctors' offices sniffing you to determine whether you have cancer. This could be stressful for both the patients and the dogs. What researchers working towards is the identification of exactly what dogs are smelling whtn they detect cancer, and whether they can develop a device to detect those chemicals.

That's only one example of how dogs help us. Goodavage takes us on a globe-hopping tour of how dogs can help us in a wide variety of ways. She meets dogs who help people who have seizures. Currently dogs can't be trained to alert to seizures, but they can be trained to respond to them in ways that keep them safe and help them recover faster. However, many seizure response dogs, after spending enough time with their person, do start alerting to seizures, giving them more time to get to a safe position and be calm and settled before the seizure starts. We don't know what the dogs are detecting,, yet, that signals the coming seizure, but we may eventually figure it out, and be able to train seizure alert dogs.

Guide dogs and mobility assistance dogs are of course the most familiar. Many of us have sseen them, out with their people, essential to the rather critical task of simply getting around safely, There are many other service dogs, newer and less familiar. Diabetes alert dogs can be life-saving, especially for those with Type 1 diabetes, which typically doesn't respond to diet control as Type 1 diabetes often does. Dogs trained to alert to high blood sugar or to dangerously low blood sugar, and can be life-saving additions to their people's lives.

Dogs can often make a lifechanging difference in the lives of autistic people, especially when the autistic person is a child with serious communication difficulties or frequent meltdowns due to sensory issues. Not entirely unrelated, dogs can also be very helpful, even vital, for people with PTSD, serious depression, panic attacks, and other mental health issue that impair the ability to live a normal life.(Full disclosure: For the last nine years, I had a service dog who made it possible for me to leave the house and be functional rather than having panic attacks. She died recently, but I'm currently in the process of getting a successor for her.)

Therapy dogs trained to provide comfort and emotional relief to people who have gone through a major  crisis, sometimes losing everything they had in a natural disaster, are dogs helping in a more familiar way. Goodavage talks about both the "professional" comfort dots, and the comfort, support, and reason to keep living that our beloved "just pets" can give us.

That's just a quick and not very deep overview of dogs and the help they can give us that Goodavage covers in more depth and greater detail and understanding in this book. The stories included introduce us to wonderful dogs, excellent people, and very moving accounts of how we and dogs can work together to make our lives both happier and healthier.


I bought this audiobook.

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