Mara Cambell’s life changed when she saved a precious black and white cat she named Shae. At first Shae seemed just another spunky kitten, but Cambell soon discovered that this particular cat had a superpower.
“I realized she was doing heart rate alerts,” Cambell tells Daily Paws. “She just clung to me and I tried to pull her off my legs and she wouldn’t move. Then I checked my heart rate and actually my heart rate went up every time she did that. “
Cambell has two unique health conditions: dysautonomy, which affects involuntary body functions; and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects connective tissue. When her heart rate increases quickly, she can feel weak and even passed out. Due to mobility problems, she could potentially fall and cause further injury. 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 develop this ability.
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How on earth do animals know that? Some experts say that service dogs and cats have such a keen sense of smell that they can detect even the smallest chemical changes in humans, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate – and even alert caregivers to more serious illnesses, such as COVID and cancer.
Cambell had wanted a service dog for some time and eventually found the perfect candidate in Max, a cute rescued black puppy with a high level of intelligence who is believed to be a mix of Golden Retriever, Border Collie, and Australian Shepherd . He’s gotten some pretty intense service dog training, but luckily Cambell says his cat brother Shae was quite, uh, on his feet with her help.
“Every time she raised an alert, she made sure he was paying attention. And if not, she would hit him! ”Says Campbell. “So in less than two weeks he was able to trigger a correct warning.”
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Now with his own special abilities, Max is considered a multi-purpose service dog who can provide Cambell with mobility support as well as the detection of muscle spasms and other neurogenic problems. His advance notice helps her to know when it is actually safer to get out of her wheelchair so that she does not fall over in it.
“With service animals, if they behave a little indecently, you learn to be attentive – ‘What do you want to tell me because I know that you are trying to tell me something?'”
Campbell loves the story of an incident when Max, sensing something was wrong, got her to help. “He usually took me to the nearest store clerk so they could call 911,” she says. “But then I realized he wasn’t taking me to a store – he was taking me to the vet! He has realized that the vet and the emergency room have the same equipment and dress similarly. Now there is a good boy!
Fans of these incredibly talented creatures can follow their adventures through Cambell’s TikTok account @thatdogwiththegoggles. Cambell regularly shares updates about their service animals – and the incredible job they do – with over 23,000 followers. You can count us among your super fans!