Dogs are no strangers to licking their owners’ faces but for Jan Fagg, who lives in Hurstpierpoint, it is not just a sign of affection – it can be a lifesaver.
A sufferer of adrenal insufficiency, Jan, 65, from Hurstpierpoint, cannot produce any cortisol, and if left, adrenal crisis could cause her to go into a coma and die.
She’s extremely bright, she loves to learn.Jan Fagg
The condition can lead to symptoms like nausea, headaches and muscle cramps.
She has nominated her dog Rhea in the Hero Assistance Dog category of the Friends for Life awards at Crufts.
She said: “She helps me a lot with physical tasks like turning on light switches and emptying the washing machine, all the usual assistance dog chores.
“But she’s also been taught to recognise if my cortisol level drops. She does it on scent from my mouth, mainly. She gets up and has a sniff round my face, nudging me if she thinks I’m going low.
“I live alone, so there’s nobody here to notice if I’m not talking any sense.”
Friends for Life is a celebration of just how much dogs change and improve people’s lives.
Five of the finalists will got to Crufts, held once again at the NEC in Birmingham, where the winner will be announced on Sunday, March 11.
People can vote for the dog they want to win by visiting the Crufts website, with the victor receiving £5,000 from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust to donate to a dog charity of their choice and runners-up £1,000.
Jan, a wheelchair user, trained Rhea, a two-year-old standard poodle, herself, with the help of non-profit group Canine Generated Independence, who help disabled people train their dogs as assistance dogs.
Until 12 years ago, Jan took part in competitive disobedience with various dogs. “I love the standard poodle breed, and decided that now I was less able to manage, having an assistance dog would be really useful for me,” she said.
“She’s extremely bright, she loves to learn. She likes working things out for herself, which is good with the modern way of training, positive reinforcement and all that.”
Jan adopted Rhea when she was eight weeks old and it was ‘love at first sight’. “There was another puppy from the litter that I liked the colour of, but we just didn’t get that link,” she said.
“When they put Rhea on my lap she came straight up licking round my face. Right from the start, she was alerting to me naturally. There’s this instant connection with the right puppy.”