Published: 14:40, 28 February 2017
A labrador puppy saves the life of a seven-year-old girl every day.
Phoebe Denton-Parracks, from Faversham, has brittle type 1 diabetes, a condition which has turned her and her family’s world upside down since she was diagnosed aged three.
But after years of fear for Phoebe’s safety and endless hospital trips, their lives were transformed when they welcomed Teddy into their home.
The Ethelbert Road pupil is oblivious to when her blood sugar levels rise or fall dangerously and her parents, Nina Denton, 45, and Graham Parracks, 44, say the first few years were “exhausting and petrifying”.
After her diagnosis, they spent more than a week in hospital learning how to look after their daughter and would take it in turn to test Phoebe’s bloods every hour during the night, in hope of stopping her from falling into a diabetic coma as she slept.
Nina said: “Phoebe’s levels are not stable and it has been really hard to control that. She gets very bad mood swings, she can get emotional and argues a lot.
“As parents we want to control that and look after her as much as possible, and we spend a lot of time in the background checking her levels.
“She leads a normal life and we would never stop her from doing anything other children do, but it’s hard as we have to adjust her levels accordingly because everything affects her – exercise, the weather, stress.”
Around 16 months ago when Phoebe was aged five, Nina and Graham discovered Hypo Hounds – a diabetic alert assistance dog charity based in Tenterden. The family, including Phoebe’s little brother Elliot, six, had already fallen in love with Teddy, just 14 weeks at the time, and set about getting him into training.
The incredibly responsive pets use their powerful sense of smell to pick up on a rise or fall in blood sugar levels and alert their owners or their families.
This can prevent a hypoglycaemic attack (known as a hypo), when blood glucose levels fall too low – or a hyperglycaemic attack (known as a hyper), when blood glucose levels get too high – and ultimately save a person’s life.
"Teddy not only saves little Phoebe’s life every day, he has also given the family back their lives and freedom” - CEO of Hypo Hounds Jane Pearman
Teddy, now 18 months, is doing exactly that with Phoebe. Graham said: “I was so shocked and excited when Teddy did his first ever alert.
“He took to the scent training like a duck to water and proved a real natural. He alerts us if he thinks that Phoebe’s levels are high or low. In the middle of the night he lays on her bed and if he is alerted he will come into our room and jump on our bed, so we instantly know we need to check her levels.”
Nina said: “He doesn’t just help with alerting us but he also helps her with having her canula changes. She won’t do it unless Teddy is around – he’s like a comfort blanket to her and calms her down.
“Phoebe is just like any other child and can do anything any other child does, but just needs help from Teddy and an adult to keep her safe as she is not hypo aware.”
CEO and founder of Hypo Hounds Jane Pearman said: “We underestimate what dogs can do for us humans. Hypo Hounds is all about training your pet dog to become a lifesaver for you, for your needs and in your environment.
“In the case of the Denton-Parracks, Teddy not only saves little Phoebe’s life every day, he has also given the family back their lives and freedom.”
Brittle type 1 diabetes is particularly hard to control, and there is no cure. Type 1 diabetes is brought on by a trigger, which could be a virus, trauma or stress.
Nina said: “We were one of the lucky ones as if not diagnosed, it can be fatal.
“Phoebe had two viruses within the space of a month and was exceptionally tired, drinking huge amounts of water, going to the toilet a lot and was loads thinner.
“All of these things are signs of Type 1 diabetes but we did not know this and took Phoebe to the doctors as she kept getting tummy aches.
"The doctor sent her for a blood test and called us later to say ‘get to the hospital straight away’ – 24 hours later we might not have been so lucky.”
For more information on diabetes, click here to visit the Diabetes UK website.
The Hypo Hounds charity was launched in 2016 by Jane Pearman, whose daughter Sophie has type 1 diabetes.
Jane trained her daughter’s dog, Scooby, to be a diabetes alert dog and they eventually made it to the finals of the Eukanuba Friends for Life contest at Crufts, where pets which support their owners take part.
Jane said: “After Crufts we had lots of phone calls asking to help them train up their dogs and it launched from there.”
With the help of the Paula Carr Diabetes Trust, Hypo Hounds was formed.
Jane added: “All the dogs go through Kennel Club training and we now have 10 going through the process.”
Hypo Hounds does not just work with labradors – they have a Staffordshire bull terrier in training at the moment.
For more information, click here to visit the Hypo Hounds website
It costs around £8,000 to train each dog and Teddy has only gone through the first few stages.
To help fund Teddy’s journey, Graham is taking part in the KM’s sponsored abseil in Maidstone on Sunday, March 19.
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