Incredible Dog and Cat Team Become Service Animals for Woman Living With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
Mara Cambell's life changed when she rescued a precious black and white cat who she dubbed Shae. At first, Shae appeared to be just another spunky kitty, but Cambell soon discovered this particular feline had a superpower.
"I realized she was doing heart rate alerts," Cambell tells Daily Paws. "She would just latch onto me and I would try to remove her from my legs and she wouldn't move. Then I checked my heart rate and sure enough, my heart rate was spiking every time she did that."
Cambell has two unique health conditions: dysautonomia, which compromises involuntary body functions; and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects connective tissue. If her heart rate increases rapidly, she might feel weak and even faint. Because of mobility issues, she could potentially fall as a result, causing further injury. So whenever Shae sensed a change in heart rate, her behavior gave Cambell the information she needed to stay safe. Cambell used positive reinforcement to further encourage this skill.
How on earth do animals know such things? Some experts say service dogs and cats have such an acute sense of smell, they're able to detect even the slightest chemical changes in humans, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate—and even alert caregivers to more serious conditions such as COVID and cancer.
Cambell had wanted a service dog for some time, and finally found the perfect candidate in Max, a sweet rescued black pup with a high level of smarts believed to be a mix of golden retriever, border collie, and Australian shepherd. He went through some rather intense service dog training, but fortunately, Cambell says that his cat brother Shae was quite, um, paws on with her assistance.
"Every time she would do an alert, she would make sure he was paying attention. And if he wasn't, she would slap him!" Campbell says. "So within less than two weeks, he was able to do a correct alert."
Now with his own special abilities, Max is considered a multipurpose service dog who can provide Cambell with mobility assistance, as well as the detection of muscle spasms and other neurogenic issues. His advance notice helps her recognize when she might actually be safer getting out of her wheelchair so she doesn't tip over in it.
"With service animals, when they start acting a little off, you learn to pay attention—'what are you trying to tell me, because I know you're trying to tell me something.'"
Campbell loves the story of one instance when Max, sensing something was wrong, led her to help. "Usually he would take me to the nearest store employee so they could call 911," she says. "But then I realized he wasn't taking me into a store—he was taking me to the vet! He recognized that the vet and the ER have the same kind of equipment and they dress similarly. Close enough!" Now there's a good boy!
Fans of these incredibly talented critters can follow along on their adventures via Cambell's TikTok account, @thatdogwiththegoggles. Cambell regularly shares updates of her service animals—and the incredible work they do—with more than 23,000 followers. You can count us as one of their super fans!