IslingtonTribune

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How Flora leads her owner to safety before he has a blackout

Akita dog – who’s also a movie star – appears to detect when seizure is imminent

15 June, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Robert Stuhldreer, who suffers from atonal epilepsy, with qualified assistance dog Flora

WHEN Robert Stuhl­dreer collapsed and woke up to find his ­Akita dog lying on his chest he had no idea how she would go on to change his life.

But in the following months, he learned that Flora, who is now six years old, showed signs of detecting when he was going to suffer a blackout.

Standing in front of him, she refused to move and would pull his hand to the ground to encourage him to lie down if he ignored her.

Flora is thought to be the only Akita – a Japanese breed once used for hunting bears – trained as an assistance dog in the country.

Mr Stuhldreer, 57, said: “She is a lifesaver. She has made a massive difference to my life.

“Before her I was having quite a lot of seizures and lots of broken bones, and it got to the point where I felt like I did not want to go out.

“It gives me several minutes to look around and find somewhere safe to lie down.”

Mr Stuhldreer, a former RAF musician, has been diagnosed with atonal epilepsy, which causes seizures, and cardiac syncope, during which his heart stops and he has blackouts.

He had owned Akita dogs for nearly 20 years before Flora, but no other had this incredible ability.

Mr Stuhldreer, of Dunfold Way in Holloway, said of the first time she helped him: “We went training and we were walking up a long dirt track and I just remember coming back and not feeling 100 per cent.

“I woke up about four to five minutes later in the middle of the dirt track. My first thought was, ‘oh, my god, where is my dog?’, and she was lying across my chest. I did not think to make much of it at the time.

“A few days later I was walking down the street and then suddenly she just stopped dead in the street. She was insistent, she was not moving. And seconds later I had a seizure.

“Her first sign is stopping walking, then she will literally walk in front of me and block my way. If I’m then stupid enough to ignore her, she pulls on my hand with her mouth. She’s so gentle.”

It is thought that some dogs can pick up on a change of chemicals in humans, with some dogs trained to detect cancer or low blood-sugar levels.

Flora has now gone on to become a qualified assistance dog, allowing Mr Stuhldreer to regain his independence.

Not only is Flora a lifesaver, but she is also an onscreen star, featuring alongside actor Michael Fassbender in crime movie Trespass Against Us.

She has also featured in Secret Life of Dogs on ITV and the BBC’s The One Show.

Now, she has been shortlisted for a prestigious animal award from the RSPCA. Mr Stuhldreer, who has four other dogs, will find out if she has won in July.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “We look forward to hosting the annual RSPCA Honours on July 11 this year as there are so many wonderful and important stories such as Flora’s.

“All our winners have done exceptional work for animals in their own special way and this really goes to show as a nation how much we both love and owe to our animals.”

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