For the love of a guide dog

2011-09-09 00:00

WHEN Robin Giles’s guide dog Hudson nearly died after eating something strange at the Royal Show last year, Giles was frantic. He had come to depend on the dog as more than merely a working companion.

For Giles, a retiree, Hudson is his animal GPS. The specially trained dog is his link to the world of sight and an early warning system when danger is imminent.

The pair are often seen around Pietermaritzburg’s suburbs as Giles goes about his routine. To get exercise he walks to the shops and his dog allows him a lot of independence and freedom.

Last year, a visit to the Royal Show was a near disaster. Hudson, like most Labradors, has a greedy streak and when Giles is unaware, he sneaks a bite of anything within reach. On this occasion he ate something that did not agree with him.

Within hours he was vomiting and he was very ill. His vet was unable to diagnose the problem and sent him to the specialist services at Hilton Veterinary Clinic. After tests and X-rays the dog was diagnosed with acute necrotic pancreatitis.

For Giles and his wife Felicity the diagnosis was heart-wrenching. Vet Martin de Scally gave the dog a 50/50 chance of pulling through. They watched as the plucky hound battled to fight the condition. In very severe cases the pancreatic tissue begins to die, and bleeding increases.

The major organs can suffer permanent damage. Hudson was hospitalised at the veterinary rooms and they waited. Bills mounted, but eventually he pulled through. Today he looks as healthy as any other dog. But it was a close call.

For the Giles’s the cost of his treatment was a huge shock. De Scally realised that the dog was not an ordinary dog and that he was vital to his owner’s lifestyle so he waived most of the costs.

De Scally, who has enormous respect for the work of the Guide Dog Association, has challenged other vets to sponsor the medical costs of one guide dog and one active police dog.

“Most people have animals as pets and we forget that some people have animals that work,” he said. “ These animals are extraordinary animals that serve their owners selflessly. In the case of police dogs they really do protect and serve.

“I know that veterinary care is expensive and I always urge animal owners to take out pet health insurance because as a vet I don’t want to be in the position of having to make a choice for owners based on costs and not on the prognosis. “

Giles and Hudson continue to take their weekly walks around Montrose and he tries to make sure that the dog does not stray from his usual diet.

But Hudson is an experimental eater and has visited­ the vet on at least two other occasions after swallowing a pair of socks and a baby avocado pear.

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