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Pets

Meet New Zealand's first diabetic response dog

The adorable seven-year-old husky has a nose for trouble and goes the extra mile to keep her owner safe.

By Fleur Mealing
Occasionally Vicki Parry's dog will come up and nudge her leg. Other dogs might be angling for a treat or a scratch behind the ears, but Ada isn't any common canine – because she saves her master's life.
The adorable seven-year-old husky became New Zealand's first diabetic response dog in 2014 and helps Vicki, 35, to monitor her type 1 diabetes.Although the Auckland woman has good control over her disease, having Ada in her life has made a world of difference.
"I honestly never anticipated how much of a difference having Ada would make. Ada is able to detect the changes to my blood sugar levels up to 45 minutes in advance," explains Vicki.
"Before I couldn't tell when my blood sugars were going to extreme levels and it would get to the point where they might be so high that I'd start vomiting."
Vicki with six-week old pup Ada, who began her training at eight months.
Vicki, who works as a documentation manager, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age seven when her sister Bronwen Connor, who was studying pharmacology and is now a professor at the University of Auckland, began to pick up on the signs, particularly the excessive thirst.
"I can't actually remember what life was like without diabetes, tells Vicki. "In a way, this makes it easier because it's just normal for me. I've always taken the mindset with my diabetes that it was never going to stop me from doing anything."
In fact, Vicki represented her country in rowing and has a performance music background.
When Vicki and her husband Simon, 32, got Ada in 2012, she was only ever supposed to be a family pet, but a chance comment by dog trainer Flip Calkoen changed that.
"One night Flip was talking about training up diabetic response dogs and I was curious as to what they actually did," recalls Vicki.
"I had no intention that we would train Ada.
"He said, if you would be interested in training her, she's got the right temperament and work ethic, and you two work well together, so I'd be happy to guide you through the process. It was a no-brainer for us to give it a go."
A guard dog and a guardian angel: Ada watching over VIcki's then-two-week-old son Zain.
Within a year, Ada was trained to detect the smell of the chemical that changes as Vicki's blood sugar does. As soon as it drops below or rises above a certain threshold, Ada nudges Vicki's leg with her nose.
However, Vicki explains that Ada has since put two and two together and now fetches her testing gear before even being asked. She can also retrieve a container of lollies from a cupboard if Vicki is in a particularly bad way.
"What makes her so good is that she's not afraid to break the rules," explains Vicki. "She knows that if I put her in her basket, she's not allowed to get out until I give her a command to do so. But if she can tell that my blood sugars are changing, she can break that command.
"She is also not allowed to take anything off the bench, but if my testing gear is up there, she knows she can put her paws up on the bench and will very gently reach over and take the gear off the bench and bring it to me."
Vicki and husband Simon say they picked "the fattest and slowest-looking puppy", but definitely got the smartest in the litter!
Ada is so devoted to Vicki's health that if she doesn't think Vicki is taking enough notice of her warning signs, she will go and get somebody else to help and persist until she has seen Vicki administer her insulin.
"My control is nowhere near as good without her," admits Vicki. "It's been life-changing for me."When Ada isn't watching over Vicki, she's hanging out with best buddy Zain. Vicki says her two-year-old son shares his most-prized cars with her and puts her to bed in her basket every night, complete with a kiss.
"They're adorable together," she muses.
Ada has changed the lives of Vicki, Simon and little Zain.
However, it was in the womb that Vicki believes the special bond between Zain and Ada formed. A difficult and complicated pregnancy meant that Vicki spent many nights in hospital.
Vicki shares, "Ada was particularly vigilant through the whole pregnancy and I feel that because she took that extra stress off my body that she helped Zain and I get through it."
Although she can't say so herself, Ada looks pretty proud of herself as Vicki sings her faithful pooch's praises.
"You can see her puff her little chest out and be like, 'I know I've done the right thing,'" laughs Vicki.

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