Ruby & Rowley
Carer Category Finalist
Ruby & Rowley
When I was 15 years old I collapsed during a Remembrance Sunday service that I was attending as an Explorer Scout. It turns out that I had an underlying heart condition which is what caused the sudden collapse. The impact of my fall caused my skull to fracture in multiple places and I was left with permanent disabilities. I am now profoundly deaf on my left side, I struggle with balance and dizziness, and I am legally blind with tunnel vision. I have also continued to experience frequent fainting episodes since my accident, often multiple times a day.
After my head injury, daily tasks become very difficult. Every time I tried to bend down to do something I would become very dizzy or I’d lose my balance and fall. I was constantly bumping my shoulders on door frames and tripping over things on the floor due to my peripheral vision loss, and I required constant supervision due to my fainting episodes.
I hated being reliant on others, so I decided to train our family dog Ruby, a Border Collie cross Australian Kelpie, to assist me. I did this with help from Dog A.I.D (Assistance In Disability) who enable disabled people to train their own Assistance Dog. Ruby learnt how to pick things up for me and fetch items, untie my shoes, help me undress, load/unload the washing machine, and to call for help whenever I collapsed by pushing an emergency alarm. This made an incredible difference to my life. She gave me back my independence.
Unfortunately within just two years of completing her training, Ruby was forced to retire. She had been attacked by other dogs on five separate occasions which caused her to become very nervous. Once again my independence was taken from me and I become completely reliant on others to care for me. Ruby stayed with me as a pet dog.
Just over a year later I was matched with a gorgeous black labrador named Rowley from The Guide Dogs for The Blind Association. He was initially only trained to assist me with my sight loss, but l was able to work with Dog A.I.D again to teach him how to support me with my physical and medical disabilities too. Rowley was taught to do everything that Ruby had helped me with, and I was also able to teach him how to alert in advance of my fainting episodes using samples of my saliva for scent detection.
Just before I collapse there are minute biochemical changes that occur in my body and Rowley can detect this using his amazing nose. Whenever he detects the scent change he lets me know by repeatedly nudging me with his nose, usually around 7 minutes before I become unconscious. This gives me enough time to find somewhere safe to lay down and let someone nearby know what is about to happen. We’ve been a partnership for almost three years now and in that time he has alerted me to over 3,000 oncoming fainting episodes (I keep track in an alert diary), that’s 3,000 potentially life-saving moments! I am thankful every day to have him by my side keeping me safe and enabling me to live my life without fear or restriction. He has also had a big impact on Ruby, showing her that other dogs can be fun and aren’t all going to attack her. I love watching them run and play together!
I also decided to do my degree in animal behaviour and am now an accredited Assistance Dog Trainer with Dog A.I.D, helping other disabled people to get their independence back too. Throughout the pandemic I have been working with clients virtually and so Ruby and Rowley have been helping out as ‘demo dogs’ in my video tutorials. I think it’s pretty cool that they’re helping to train the next generation of Assistance Dogs!
I blog about our life together on our Facebook page, Ruby & Rowley – Megan’s Superdogs, in order to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and the life-changing work of Assistance Dogs.