Amberley, an angel in disguise
A guardian angel is defined as an angel believed to protect a particular person, for instance from danger or error, and that is exactly what two-year-old Labrador Amberley is to her owner, Lindi Opperman.
Lindi, a final-year LLB student at the North West University’s campus in Potchefstroom, suffers from Type 1 diabetes. She has been living with this condition for 17 years.
This is an autoimmune disease in which the cells in the pancreas are destroyed by a virus and as a result, produces little to no insulin and this can lead to a stroke, kidney failure, unconsciousness, a seizure, and even death.
Hypoglycemia unawareness is a common and dangerous condition that can develop in people with type 1 diabetes. This condition means you don’t experience the symptoms most people do when their blood sugar gets too low.
If your blood sugar is very low, you may experience seizures or – when it is too low for too long – fall into a coma. There have been times when Lindi became unconscious as a result of her sugar levels being too low. One of the solutions for this condition is a diabetes service dog.
Amberley is a specially trained dog that functions as a blood sugar level detector. She will be able to tell when Lindi’s blood sugar is low even while she is asleep and will then notify her by putting its paw on her leg or shoulder.
Lindi is currently in Cape Town for a training course that teaches her how to interact and take care of Amberley. The main aim of this training session is to also help facilitate the bond between them.
“It was very emotional when we started training because she alerted me as soon as my blood sugar level was low and even fetched my test kit, “ exclaims Lindi.
She says the training process is fun and she enjoys working with Amberley and getting to know her. It does, however, get a bit tiring for both of them. “We usually go to the beach to relax and gain a bit of energy,” says Lindi.
At the end of the workshop, there will be a graduation ceremony and then Amberley will officially be Lindi’s companion. She will accompany Lindi everywhere, even when she writes tests and exams.
“I will keep her until she’s too old to continue assisting me so basically we are companions and best friends for a long time,” she says.
This process is still relatively new in South Africa and Amberley will be the very first of her kind in Potchefstroom. As exciting as this is, there are also a few challenges involved. Having a service dog is a commitment on the part of the owner to take the time necessary to build a bond with the dog.
An owner must also care for the dog by feeding, bathing, and exercising it, and maintaining regular veterinary appointments.
Lindi adds that she is very worried about how people will react to Amberley accompanying her everywhere, especially in shopping centers. She is however happy that she is a candidate for this training program because she wants to help raise awareness to the fact that these service dogs exist and play a pivotal role in saving lives.
“People should just remember that Amberley is a service dog and although I know I will be stopped and asked questions, people should not attempt to pet her or play with her,” she strongly emphasized.
Lindi Opperman and her Labrador Amberley.
Lindi and Amberley during one of their training sessions.
Two-year-old service dog Amberley.