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Meet the Medical Mutts of Cape Town

Meet River. River is a beautiful 7-month-old Labrador who was recently adopted by the Preller family.

Her bestie’s name is Sebastian. He’s an active 15-year-old karate champion! The two of them are inseparable. They literally do everything together, from playing fetch in the garden to Xbox in their room. Soon, River will even go to school with Sebastian. That’s because she’s no ordinary dog, she’s his medical alert dog. You see, Sebastian has Type one diabetes and River is trained to alert him if his blood sugar gets too high or too low, before a dangerous situation can occur.

Using her incredible sense of smell, she can sniff out any changes in Sebastian’s glucose level up to 30 minutes before a blood glucose monitor.  When she does, she’ll alert him with a signal (which is pacing, sniffing or putting a paw on his knee repeatedly until he takes notice). He’ll then check his blood sugar and adjust it to a normal level.

River went through rigorous training by Just Dog’s Behaviour before she moved in with Sebastian – she really earned her stripes!

Just Dogs Behaviour is working to introduce medical alert dogs for people with Type one diabetes, as well as a number of other medical conditions in South Africa.  At the helm is Lucy Breytenbach, a canine behaviour practitioner with a BSc (Hons) degree in Animal Science, Behaviour and Welfare, and over 10 years of experience training dogs.

Lucy is originally from the UK but she’s been in South Africa for 5 years and has a training farm in Atlantis. She said she was shocked to discover that the only available assistance dogs were guide dogs. There were no diabetic, epileptic or hearing dogs and she wanted to change this. She said: “I believe that the right to have a medical alert dog should be extended to everybody who needs it in SA and if we can make it as affordable as possible then we can help more people.”

The current cost to train a medical alert dog is R100 000 but Lucy has managed to get the costs down to a bare minimum of R50 000.  If you would like to contribute financially towards training a medical alert dog or if you’d like more information, you can visit the website:

Like Robert Wagner said: “A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad.”


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