Medical alert dog saves owner’s life

Carolyn Gatenby and her Medical Detection Dog, Simba. PNL-140406-115429009
Carolyn Gatenby and her Medical Detection Dog, Simba. PNL-140406-115429009

A medical alert dog trained by a local charity has saved the life of its owner after she collapsed unconscious in the street last Friday evening.

Carolyn Gatenby, aged 53, suffers from highly unstable Type 1 diabetes and her blood sugar drops dangerously low without warning.

She had been visiting the Great Horwood headquarters of the Medical Detection Dogs charity, where her assistance dog Simba was trained, when she suffered a hypoglycaemic attack and fell unconscious, on a bench on Winslow High Street.

By nudging his owner, whimpering and barking, five-year-old Simba, who was wearing his Diabetes Alert Dog jacket, gained the attention of passer-by Rebecca Gorden, who realised it was a medical emergency and called an ambulance.

With five-year-old Simba accompanying her in the ambulance, Ms Gatenby was admitted to the resuscitation unit at Milton Keynes Hospital, and was able to be discharged later that evening.

With their amazing sense of smell, medical alert dogs are trained to identify the odour changes that are associated with certain medical events, such as a drop in blood sugar level, and warn their owner.

Simba alerts Miss Gatenby by putting his paws on her shoulders and licking her face.

Miss Gatenby, from West Yorkshire, who has had Simba since he was six weeks old, contacted Medical Detection Dogs two and a half years ago to see if he could be trained up.

When charity director Claire Guest visited to assess Simba, she realised he was already making attempts to alert Ms Gatenby to her hypoglycaemic attacks.

Miss Gatenby said: “I actually thought he was a badly behaved dog because he used to jump up at me and lick me.

“I never realised what was going on. I used to just shove him away.

“He understands me inside out. We’ve got a fantastic bonding.

“It was just a matter of me realising what he’s trying to tell me.

“It’s given me my life back.

“Because my diabetes is so brittle, he can alert up to 17 times a day.

“Sometimes I can drop so quickly that by the time I’m sat down, I’m gone.”

And she added: “Without the lady responding to Simba barking and seeing him with his red coat on and realising he was a working dog, I wouldn’t be here today.

“He’s more than a blessing.”

Find out more about Medical Detection Dogs at