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Holly comes home for Christmas

Holly (Diabetes Alert Dog) with Lize Marais - pic Brenton Geach (2)Christmas will bring extra joy to the Marais family of Meyerton as they welcome Holly, a specially trained service dog, into their family.

Holly, a rescue Husky crossbreed, has spent most of this year training to be a diabetic assistance dog for 15-year-old Lize. She has been imprinted with the scent of Lize’s saliva and taught to alert and raise the alarm when Lize’s blood sugar is low. After eight months of training it’s time to bring Holly home.

Lize says that controlling her blood sugar is very stressful, “I’ve had many hypoglycaemic events, including a couple of years ago when I went to bed as normal and woke up in the hospital. Knowing Holly will paw or bump me when my blood sugar is low means I won’t be as scared anymore. It’s going to change my life.”

“As the parent of a Type 1 diabetic you know you are not going to sleep through the night ever again,” says mom Lizelle. “You get up and test them; you worry constantly about them. Holly’s trained to pick up problems even before we notice. Having her around will help us all feel more relaxed. If she prevents a hypoglycaemic event just once it will be worth every cent.”

Holly has been trained by Lucy Breytenbach of Just Dog Behaviour and Medical Alert Dogs SA in Cape Town. Lucy moved to South Africa in 2010 and discovered there weren’t any medical service dogs here. “Knowing the huge difference they make in people’s lives I decided to start training more of these amazing animals,” says Lucy, who started Medical Alert Dogs SA in 2016 and currently has 14 dogs in training.

Training a diabetic alert dog is an intensive process which can take 8 to 18 months, depending on the animal’s age and aptitude. The cost of training time, food, veterinary bills, flea control and sterilisation, all adds up. Currently Medical Alert Dogs charges R50, 000 for a diabetic alert dog, but Lucy says that in reality it costs a lot more.

Even though Lizelle is a single mom, the Marais were determined to raise the money needed. “Our church agreed that we could sell fudge after the Sunday service. Our initial goal was to raise the R10, 000 deposit. I had to go to work, so dropped Lize off with R1, 500 of fudge to sell. Miraculously she raised R25, 000 that first day! People were incredibly generous. One family member gave Lize a cheque for R20, 000. Another person paid R1, 000 for one pack of fudge. By the end of February we’d raised the full R50, 000.”

“Of every 10 dogs I assess, only 1 or 2 are suitable for this type of work,” says Lucy. The ideal dog will prefer people to dogs, is willing to learn and keen to work, have a fantastic sense of smell and the intelligence to think independently and make decisions.

Lucy says she fell in love with Holly’s character when she met her at Leadville Dog Park where 10-month-old Holly had been dumped. Lucy recognised her potential and took her to their training facility in Melkbos. After 8 months Lize came down to spend 2 weeks training together and then Holly was ready to go home.

Lucy says there are currently around 100 families that have applied for medical alert dogs but most are unable to afford one. “We’re looking for sponsors and corporate partners to assist.”

Hill’s Pet Nutrition South Africa is committed to supporting Lucy and her team by providing the highest quality food. “It’s important to ensure service dogs lead long and healthy lives and the more sponsored assistance received, the more they can be sure of enjoying the perfect diet.

“Once trained, these dogs can be the difference between a tragedy and a peaceful night’s sleep. If they save just one life it’s worth it.”

Meet Lucy, Holly and Lize in this heart-warming video or visit for more information.

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