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Rebecca and Shirley

Shirley is always at Rebecca's side. Photo by Damien McFadden

When Rebecca Farrar gets ready for school, she packs her back pack, gets her lunch and her Yellow Lab Shirley. That's because, Shirley is Rebecca's medical alert dog and is vital to the schoolgirl's health. Shirley has been specially trained to react when she smells an increase or decrease in seven-year-old Rebecca's sugar levels and is the first Blood Sugar Detection Dog in the UK to be allowed into a main stream primary school.

Rebecca, of Northampton, England was diagnosed three years ago with a serious form of Type I diabetes which would cause her to collapse up to three times per day. She was unable to sense when she was about to slip into a possible coma. Shirley warns Rebecca when her blood sugar is at a dangerous level by licking her hand, jumping on her lap or even dragging her diabetic testing kit to her side.

"Since we have had Shirley, Rebecca's condition has stabilized and Rebecca is a much more confident girl," says Mom Claire. "Rebecca's confident gives me a lot of reassurance. Shirley is brilliant. She saves Rebecca's life." The Lab, who recently enrolled at Harpole Primary School, sits next to Rebecca's desk throughout the day and is able to warn teachers of any changes in Rebecca's sugar levels. She also sleeps next to Rebecca and monitors her levels throughout the night. "Shirley means everything to Rebecca," explains Mom Claire. "She's Rebecca's soul-mate and they're inseparable. Rebecca would never, ever want to be without Shirley."

Because of her excellent work with Rebecca, Shirley was nominated for the Crufts Friends for Life Award. Claire is not sure who nominated Rebecca and Shirley, but she is thrilled at the recognition.