WHEN Paul and Serena Courtney bought a family pet dog they had no idea the part she would play a major role in their son Steven’s health.
Steven, nine, had been desperate for a pet dog and immediately formed a bond with cocker spaniel Molly, now two.
But it was a chance talk at Fairweather Dog Training Club, in Arncott, near Bicester, by charity Medical Detection Dogs that was to change the relationship from pet to protector.
Steven, a pupil at Five Acres School in Ambrosden, near Bicester, was diagnosed with type one diabetes when he was three and has to take insulin to stay alive.
When the charity’s representative asked Steven if Molly noticed when he was having a hypo – an episode of potentially fatal low blood sugar – and he replied yes, things started to fall into place.
Initially Mrs Courtney, who also has a six-year-old son Charlie, was sceptical, but the more she watched Molly and Steven interact the more she was convinced.
Just before Christmas the family signed up Molly to train with the charity as a detection dog.
Mrs Courtney, a former teacher, said: “They decided then and there she had the right temperament and they could see the bond they have got. Plus the dogs have to be sociable.
“She’s not an easy dog to train as she’s very intelligent. But she’s taken to this so well.”
Molly wears a special jacket and collar when she’s on duty.
She can detect changes in Steven’s glucose levels by smell and will alert him by licking his hand, jumping up or fetching his glucose test kit.
Steven said: “She alerts me when I’m low. She is clever and she is my best friend.”
Steven had not shown any symptoms of illness, but over a weekend six years ago started to suddenly drink a lot.
Mrs Courtney, from Merton Road, Ambrosden, took him to the doctor and he was immediately referred to the John Radcliffe Hospital , in Oxford. She said: “I was very frightened. After he got to hospital he was told he would need insulin injections for life.”
In reality the condition is very complicated to manage. Steven must test blood glucose levels with a finger tip prick before he eats and before and after any activity.
Mrs Courtney said: “He’s got very little awareness if he is high or low, one minute he can be running around playing and the next he’s behaving weirdly. But we haven’t got that now as Molly gives us an early warning. “It’s very reassuring.”