The Duchess of Cornwall has become Patron of the charity Medical Detection Dogs – one of the world’s leading organisations in using the animals to help diagnose serious illnesses, including detecting cancer.
At St. James’s Palace last week, The Duchess of Cornwall, accompanied by The Prince of Wales, attended a demonstration by the dogs at work and a reception for the charity. Their Royal Highnesses and their guests watched as three dogs, all Labradors, were put through their paces identifying prostate cancer and kidney tumours from samples from patients.
Comedian Bill Bailey was among the guests who attended. He has been campaigning to raise awareness of prostate cancer and immediately gave his support to the organisation after watching the demonstration.
Speaking about his conversation with The Duchess after watching the animals at work, he said: "Both of us had an emotional reaction to it – I wasn’t expecting that.
“I was expecting a clinical trial. It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye, how many lives this could save.”
Dr Claire Guest, Chief Executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said it was only relatively recently that the scientific world had pursued the ability of dogs to sniff out diseases.
She told the guests invited to the demonstration: “How we missed for so many centuries that dogs could detect diseases in this way is perhaps remarkable, but perhaps we weren’t watching our dogs carefully enough.”
Her interest in the subject sprang from a friend who in the early 1980s went to see her GP to have a mole on her calf examined only after her dog persistently sniffed the problem area which was diagnosed as skin cancer. Dr Guest’s own dog Daisy, one of the Labradors used in the demonstration, alerted her to a lump in her breast which proved to be cancer.
The charity not only trains dogs to analyse samples from patients suspected of having the early stages of bladder or prostate cancer but also has around 50 medical assistance dogs, with the majority helping their owners to manage their diabetes by warning them if their blood-sugar levels are too high or low.
Dr Claire Guest continued: "The ability of dogs to assist with people who are suffering from life threatening conditions is incredible.
“These dogs are not only transforming people’s lives but keeping them safe, keeping them out of the hospital and dare I say it, saving the NHS a lot of money.
“The dogs are trained to detect the odour change, this biochemical change, that occurs in our bodies with any disease or condition and the dogs are taught when you smell this on your owner warn them quickly.”
The Prince and The Duchess met six-year-old Cerys Davies and her mother, Debbie, from Baldock in Hertfordshire, who have Wendy, a black Labrador who helps the youngster manage her aggressive Type 1 diabetes.
Mrs Davies said she and her husband would mount vigils throughout the night, doing blood tests to make sure their daughter did not slip into a coma however their lives has changed since now the dog will wake them if there is a problem and carry over Cerys’s medical kit.
Mrs Davies said: "We’ve had Wendy four months and the change has been incredible. She wouldn’t leave my side before but now Cerys is happier and healthier.
“Wendy alerts us about five to eight times a day and she did it the first night we had her, which we never expected.”
The charity has also trained Europe’s first dog to detect peanuts which give her owner, Yasmine Tornblad, severe anaphylactic shocks, even if she comes into contact with them second-hand.
Also at the event was Downton Abbey actress Lesley Nicol, who plays cook Mrs Patmore. She has been a supporter of the charity, founded in 2008, for a number of years and has a dog named after her character which will be trained to spot medical conditions.