Animals As Carers: How Animals Help People
It is well known that animals help people in a number of different ways.
People who would otherwise be lonely but who share their lives with a dog or a
cat often suffer far less from illness than those who do not have an animal to
talk to, play with or sit with. Stroking a cat can help reduce blood pressure.
Talking to a budgerigar can help stave off depression. Watching goldfish
swimming around a tank can ease anxiety. And walking the dog can help ease
aching joints and improve cardiovascular fitness.
But here are some other
examples of how compassionate, thoughtful, imaginative and caring animals can
and do help people.
1. In their excellent book When Elephants
Weep Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy report how a man called John Teal,
who was working with endangered musk oxen, was at first alarmed when some dogs
approached and the musk oxen snorted, stamped and thundered towards him. Before
Mr Teal could move to escape the oxen formed a defensive ring around him and
lowered their horns at the dogs. It turned out that the musk oxen were
protecting their new human friend in exactly the same way that they would
protect their calves from predators.
2. The life of a man in Boston, USA
was saved by his dog Belle who had been trained to call for help. The man, who
was diabetic had a seizure and collapsed. The dog then bit into the unconscious
man's cell phone and called the emergency services on 911.
3. Dogs can
be used to help diabetic patients by using their keen sense of smell. The dogs
can detect abnormalities in a diabetic's blood sugar levels. The specially
trained dog periodically licked her owner’s nose to check his blood sugar level.
If she was worried (could smell ketones) she would paw and whine at him until he
took action to put things right. `Every time she paws at me in that way I grab
my meter and test myself,' said the man. `She's never been wrong.'
Dogs have also been trained to detect cancer by smell. And early studies are
showing impressive results. A dog's nose has 220 million cells associated with
its sense of smell. Humans have just 5 million. (It is for this reason that dogs
are used to sniff out drugs, explosives and human remains.) Some experts now
even claim that dogs can be trained to smell cancer cells in human beings. Dr
Armand Gognetta, a skin cancer specialist, has reported that a grey-haired
Schnauzer called George, who has been trained to detect skin cancer cells in
humans, has a success rate of nearly 100%. George was trained after a medical
journal had described how another dog had kept sniffing at a particular mole on
her owner's leg - ignoring a number of other moles. A biopsy had revealed that
the mole which had attracted attention had been malignant.
5. Dogs have
been reported to be sensitive to impending epileptic seizures. No one knows how
they do this but dogs are sensitive to seizures about forty minutes before they
occur. Dogs can therefore be trained to offer early warnings - enabling their
owners to take the appropriate precautions for their safety.
pets know (presumably through some sixth sense such as extra sensory perception)
that their owners are going to be in danger.
7. Cat owners have reported
that when they are feeling ill their cat will make much of a fuss of them -
purring loudly and rubbing against them when they are feeling unwell.
It has frequently been reported that dogs who are separated from their owners
will sense when something terrible has happened. Author Sandra Collier reports
that when a friend was taken seriously ill while on holiday her dogs, left at
home in the care of another friend, began howling in the middle of the night.
The dogs howled continuously. It was later discovered that the dogs had started
howling at the moment their owner had fallen ill.
9. Writer Ernest
Thompson Seton got caught in two wolf traps while working in the wilderness. At
nightfall, a pack of hungry wolves gathered around him. The leader began to
growl and snap at Seton who was trapped and helpless. As the wolves were about
to attack, Seton's dog Bingo suddenly appeared and killed the leader of the wolf
pack. Bingo then dragged a tool to Seton that enabled him to undo the traps and
free himself. The really strange thing is that the dog had not been taken on
Seton's expedition. At home he had whimpered and acted strangely. Eventually,
despite attempts to detain him, he headed into the dark to find the endangered
10. Four New Zealanders were swimming off Ocean Beach near
Whangarei on New Zealand's North Island when dolphins swam close to them in
tight circles and herded them to safety. One of the swimmers, a lifesaver, tried
to escape from the dolphins but was herded back into the group - just as he
noticed a nine foot great white shark swimming towards the group. `The dolphins
had corralled us up to protect us,' said the lifesaver. The swimmers spent the
next 40 minutes surrounded by the dolphins before the shark disappeared and they
were allowed to swim back to shore. The dolphins had sensed the danger to the
human swimmers and had taken action to protect them, just as they would protect
their young. Later, two of the dolphins were butchered by poachers.
Animals have been known to give food to hungry humans. Koko, the gorilla who
learned to communicate with humans through sign language, gave medical advice to
a human woman who complained of indigestion. Koko told the woman to drink orange
juice. When the human revisited ten days later and offered Koko a drink of
orange juice, Koko would not accept the drink until assured that the woman felt
12. A Border collie woke a young mother from a deep sleep and
led her to her baby's cot. The baby was choking on mucus and had stopped
Copyright Donna Antoinette Coleman and Vernon Coleman
Taken from Animal Miscellany by Donna Antoinette Coleman and
Vernon Coleman (available through the bookshop on this website).