Humans and animals have been working side by side for around 15,000 years, but more recently animals have been helping us in much more complicated ways. We’ve all heard of hearing dogs – dogs trained to alert their owner to important sounds like ringing telephones, alarm clocks and fire alarms – but there are so many other animals, canine or otherwise, who have been helping out their human friends in new, exciting ways.
Guide horses are the equine equivalent of the guide dog. Some blind or visually impaired people choose not to use a guide dog for religious or medical reasons, and a miniature guide horse can be a useful alternative. Just like a dog, a miniature horse can be trained to guide its owner around objects, away from danger, notify its owner to surface elevation changes and retrieve objects on command. More unusual than dogs, they’re more likely to be seen as working animals. They can live for as long as 40 years, twice as long as the oldest-lived dogs.
Some adults with severe motor impairments are assisted by highly intelligent helper monkeys. These highly trained capuchin monkeys go through 8 to 12 years of intense socialization and training before they’re available to work with a human to assist them in their daily lives. These helper monkeys are trained to fetch glasses of water, turn lights off and on, load CDs and DVDs and to turn the pages of a book. Like guide horses, they live significantly longer than guide dogs, able to assist humans for around 25 to 30 years.
Dog noses are around 40 times stronger than human noses, so its no surprise that we’ve employed them in the detection of everything from drugs to termites to mobile phones. Canine cancer detection is a relatively new and potentially revolutionary non-invasive method of identifying certain types of cancer in people. Dog noses are so sensitive that they can sniff out the compounds generated by malignant tumors in the breath and urine of cancer sufferers. One study found cancer detection dogs accurately detected lung cancer in 93% of breath samples. These potentially life-saving pooches could be integrated into medical services like their bomb detecting cousins working with the military and police.
Seizure response dogs assist people who experience seizures associated with some types of epilepsy and other psychiatric conditions. They are trained to alert people when their owner is experiencing a seizure by barking or activating an alarm system to summon help. During a seizure, a seizure response dog might use its body weight to keep a person in a specific position to keep them safe until help arrives, fetch medication or help their owner to communicate and come round after a seizure. These clever canines save lives, acting as both a companion and a caretaker.
These incredible animals work together with their human owners to improve their independence, quality of life and safety. From emotional support to detecting deadly disease, these animals deserve our love and respect as working animals with real, applicable skills. Their capacity to learn is surprising and full of potential to help people as well as to act as a loving companion.