Though all dogs greatly improve the quality of their owners' lives, there are some working dogs trained with the sole purpose of saving human lives. These fearless pups put their own safety aside to rush into collapsed buildings to search for survivors, risk getting blown up while sniffing dangerous explosives and provide life-saving alerts to those suffering from serious illness. There can be no better best friend than that.
Seizure Detection Dogs
Seizure detection dogs are able to sense when their owner is about to suffer an epileptic seizure. Although these pups are unable to prevent the seizure, they often prod and push their owner into safely lying down, and the protective pooch will lie on top of the person's body while the seizure occurs. The pup's alert also gives the owner time to seek medical attention, if needed. Although there's still no scientific explanation how they're able to sense seizures, it could be a change in the diabetic's body odor prior to the seizure that the dog is able to smell, according to Roger Reep of the University of Florida.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Incredible as it sounds, these pooches are trained to alert their diabetic owners when their blood-sugar levels drop to dangerous levels and it's time to take necessary medication. Diabetic alert dogs provide a life-saving service, because low blood-sugar can lead to kidney disease, coma, vision problems, stroke or even death. Dogs' noses contain approximately 250 million receptors, which gives them their ability to smell changes in the diabetic's bloodstream, according to Dan Warren, a Virginia trainer of diabetic alert dogs. When blood-sugar levels drop, the diabetic emits an acetone odor that's similar to nail polish.
Search-and-Rescue dogs don't leave any stone unturned in their hunt for survivors caught in disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, building collapses, catastrophic weather events or those lost in the wilderness. These dogs are trained for more than 600 hours before they're allowed to perform search-and-rescue work. Their acute smell gives them the ability to locate survivors trapped underneath layers of rubble or snow, and can even detect those who are buried beneath the dead. Since they're able to crawl into tiny spaces that humans are unable to access, they can find survivors who otherwise would have remain undetected and died.
Pooches have powerful noses for locating explosives and are able to find even the most carefully hidden devices. Law enforcement and counter-terrorism agents train these dogs to detect explosives in buildings, vehicles, shipping ports, backpacks, luggage, packages, airports and aircraft. Currently, the 39 busiest airports in America use bomb-sniffing dogs, and the FAA plans to increase that amount to 80 airports and 300 dogs, according to ABC News. Back in 1971, the United States Air Force began training dogs to detect improvised explosive devices, or IEDs -- 80 percent of all found IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq were located by bomb-sniffing dogs.
Where to Find a Medical Alert Dog
If you're interested in obtaining a medical alert dog, you can contact Dogs4Diabetics, 4 Paws for Ability (which places medical alert dogs with children and veterans) and Canines 4 Hope.
By Liza Blau
The New York Times: The Search-and-Rescue Dogs of 9/11
United States Search and Rescue Task Force: Dogs in Search & Rescue
Backpacker: Yosemite Rescue Dogs: Could This Dog Save Your Life?
Salisburypost.com: Diabetic Alert Dogs Can Sniff Out Health Problems
Diabetes Forecast: Could a Dog Save Your Life?
ABCnews: Intense Training for Bomb-Sniffing Dogs
CBSNews: The New Pack of Bomb-Sniffing Dogs
ABCNews: Trained Dogs Sense Seizures, Save Lives
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Dogs Turn Out to be Best at Finding IEDs.
NBCnews.com: Pet Saviors: 11 Animals Who Saved Human Lives
Dogs4Diabetes: Our Dogs Save Lives
4 Paws For Ability: Seizure Assistance Dog
Canines 4 Hope: Seizure Alert Dogs
About the Author
Liza Blau received a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in fiction anthologies from Penguin Press, W.W. Norton, NYU Press and others. After healing her own life-threatening asthma by switching to a whole, natural foods diet, she founded the NYC Asthma Wellness Center. Blau counsels individuals on healing their own asthma and allergies with dietary and lifestyle changes.