Friends for Life? Meet Coco!
World’s first Addison’s assistance dog named as finalist in Crufts competition
Vote for Karen & Coco on: 0844 6460204
The world’s first Medical Alert Dog trained to assist an Addison’s Disease sufferer has been named as a
finalist in the DFS Crufts Friends for Life competition.
The competition, organised by The Kennel Club, recognises exceptional life-changing dogs but Chocolate
Labrador Coco has not just changed his owner’s life - he saves it on a daily basis.
Only a year ago, 20-month old Coco was looking for a new home when his owners couldn’t cope with his
boisterous temperament and independent personality any longer. They contacted Cancer & Bio-detection
Dogs hoping that Coco’s natural drive and enthusiasm for life could be channelled into helping others, as a
The charity’s founder Claire Guest assessed Coco and could see his potential. Coco’s fosterers began an
intense four-month basic training and socialisation programme after which Claire believed Coco was ready
for a challenge that would make him a hero every day.
When Karen Ruddlesden contacted Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs asking if a dog could be trained to help
her live with her rare disorder called Addison’s Disease Claire Guest was only too pleased to take up the
challenge and found the perfect dog – a chocolate Labrador called Coco.
Addison’s disease sufferers do not produce enough steroid hormones as their adrenal glands do not
function properly. In Karen’s case this problem is augmented as six years ago tumours were found on her
adrenal glands and they had to be surgically removed. As a result Karen has no cortisol reserves in her
body and her levels are solely maintained by medication.
When her body’s cortisol levels drop dangerously low she will suffer an Addison’s crisis, which is always
serious and can be fatal if not treated quickly. She had heard about the Hypo Alert Dogs that the charity
has trained to give their diabetic owners a warning if their blood sugar levels get too low or too high and
wondered if a dog could help her with Addison’s.
Claire has never been afraid of taking on a challenge and embarked on a very sophisticated scent
discrimination program with Coco using frozen breath and sweat samples from Karen from when she was
ill and from when she was well. Coco was very quick to learn and when Karen met Coco for the first time,
he already knew Karen from her scent and it was love at first sight.
Karen and Coco have now been together as a working partnership for only six months and already he has
transformed Karen’s life by warning her when her cortisol levels drop. Coco acts as an early warning
system, letting Karen know that her levels are dropping, even before she starts to feel unwell. This gives
her time to self-medicate and avoids a call to the emergency services and a hospital stay.
In this time Karen hasn’t suffered an Addison’s crisis, which is down to Coco’s early warning alerts that
have led to Karen’s condition being more stable without the peaks and troughs of cortisol levels she
experienced previously. Even her hospital consultant, Dr David Coppini is delighted with the difference
Coco has made to Karen’s health. He enthused: “From what I’ve seen when she comes into hospital, she’s
well one minute and extremely unwell the next, and I’m not sure that any doctor or medical personnel
can actually stop that at this point in time. If she can, through Coco become aware of that at an early
stage then it will prevent some serious implications. ”He added:“I think it is very intriguing and it may set
some precedent to detection of other similar conditions, not just in endocrinology but in general medicine
as a whole”
Coco carries Karen’s injection kit with him in his vest and is trained to retrieve it on cue. If he detects
Karen’s cortisol levels are dropping he will firstly lick her hands and sniff her breath. If she does not act
on this alert he will then touch her with his paw and lick her face. If Karen is sitting or lying in bed Coco
will climb onto the furniture and makes sure she gets the message! Coco will never leave Karen’s side and
even accompanies her into the bathroom, waiting patiently while she bathes or showers. He is like her
guardian angel with four paws.
Characteristic symptoms of an Addison’s Disease crisis include sudden penetrating pain in the legs, lower
back or abdomen, severe vomiting, loss of consciousness, confusion, convulsions and fever as well as
plummeting blood pressure.
Karen has very little time from starting to feel unwell to being in full-blown crisis so sometimes it becomes
too late for her to be able to inject herself and she needs emergency hospital treatment. As a crisis can
come on at any time without warning Karen was too scared to leave the house on her own.
Karen remembers, “I became a hermit and lost all confidence as it was very embarrassing if I got sick
when I was out. It’s impossible to plan too far ahead with such an illness, which I find frustrating and,
although I remain cheerful, each bout of serious illness dents my confidence a bit more. Since having
Coco I look forward to living every day of my life rather than simply existing.”
“People have already noticed that I am much more confident since having Coco,” says Karen. “I sleep
better now knowing he will alert me if my levels drop while I’m asleep. I can also relax when out and
about knowing that Coco is there to look after me. As long as I have my knight in shining armour with a
waggy tail with me by my side, I’m not scared of anything anymore.”
Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs is only a young charity but already it has achieved the most amazing feats
by harnessing a dog’s huge sense of smell (olfactory capacity). Firstly it trained dogs to detect bladder
cancer in humans before moving on to Hypo Alert dogs for people with hard to control diabetes.
The winner of Friends for Life will be chosen by public vote and announced on Sunday 14 March in the
main arena at Crufts, just before Best In Show.
To vote for daily lifesaver Coco, dial: 0844 6460204. Calls cost 5p from a BT landline. Calls from
other networks may vary and from mobiles will cost considerably more. Details and Terms at
Channel4.com/crufts. Voting closes at 19:30 on 14th March. Watch the Friends for life finalists
Come and meet Karen and Coco on the Cancer & Bio-detection Dogs stand: 71, Hall 3 at Crufts.
Notes to the editor
Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs’ first groundbreaking achievement was when it trained dogs to successfully
sniff out bladder cancer in human urine samples. The results of this first ground-breaking study were
published in the BMJ in 2004. The work Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs has been doing within the medical
profession, thanks to the support of The Amerderm Trust and NHS Buck Trust, offers the potential to
provide earlier diagnosis of cancer and therefore earlier commencement of treatment with greater chance
of success. Find out more: www.cancerdogs.co.uk or www.hypoalertsdogs.co.uk
The Kennel Club Charitable Trust was established in 1987 with the objective of making a difference for
dogs, and in the 22 years it has been operating has given over £4m in grants. The Trust helped fund the
training of Hypo Alert dogs by donating £25,000 to Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs.
For Press information contact Anna Webb at Paws PR:
Tel: 020 7249 5345 Mobile: 07973 282 803 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.pawspr.biz