Dogs as doctors? Yes—psychiatrists, diagnosticians, even healers, as journalist Goodavage (Secret Service Dogs: The Heroes Who Protect the President of the United States, 2016, etc.) writes in her latest canine tribute.
It’s long been observed that a dog is a human’s best friend, helpful in all sorts of situations, from sniffing out skiers buried in avalanches to interdicting illegal shipments of drugs and explosives. In this anecdotally driven book of reportage, the author allows that other animals have better senses of smell than dogs, but few have the discipline to combine their olfactory talents with the patience and alertness that allow them to perform tasks intimately connected to human health. In recent years, dogs have been trained to detect when a person suffering from diabetes might be headed for a blood-sugar crash or when someone with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome might be about to faint. As Goodavage writes in the latter instance, one woman’s wheelchair “collects dust most weeks because [her dog] can give her warning a few minutes ahead of her syncope, allowing her enough time to get into a safe spot.” Other dogs have been trained to detect the presence of cancers, the onset of Parkinson’s and other motor disorders, and a host of other ailments. Goodavage imagines a time when technology will allow dogs to “speak” with voice alerts announcing that their charges are in need of attention, as the dog then “leads you to someone who’s having a severe allergic reaction, a seizure, or other medical emergency." The book is overlong, with too many episodes adding up to the same conclusion—namely, that dogs can do wondrous things to improve our lives and health. Still, if Queen Elizabeth II, attending a demonstration of medical detection dogs, was moved to wonder whether dogs might be stationed at airports to find malaria victims, the author’s narrative might inspire thoughts of other applications. Fans of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ Hidden Lives of Dogs and similar books will want to have a look.
A somewhat padded text that will nonetheless find plenty of readers.