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Loving dog "killed owner trying to help"

12 February, 2001

A coroner's court in Cornwall has been told how a dog attempted to drag its owner 'to safety' during a seizure, reports BBC News Online.

The body of Kirsty Ross was found at her home in Helston in November last year with neck injuiries, later discovered to have been caused by her pet Doberman.

Home Office pathologist Guyan Fernando told the court that it appeared that the dog had not savaged her but had tried to drag her to safety by the scruff of her neck "in the manner of a dog wanting to lift a puppy".

Detective Sergeant Jonathan Quick said that he had spoken to Miss Ross' boyfriend about the dog.

"[Her boyfriend] has stated then the dog would stand and stare at Kirsty when she was fitting and had to be reassured by him. He described the dog as being confused" he said.

Coroner Edward Carylon described the incident as a great tragedy and recorded a verdict of accidental death.

On the subject of people with epilepsy keeping dogs, Monica Cooper, manager of BEA's Advice and Information Services, said:

"Research indicates that there is a potential risk of a dog responding aggressively or fearfully when exposed to a human seizure. Although this is a rare occurrence it is important that people with active epilepsy (i.e. seizures not controlled) are aware of this when making a decision on keeping a dog as a pet. This potential risk has to be balanced with the general benefits of keeping a dog as a pet e.g. social and psychological benefits as well as personal safety. Dogs can be trained to detect seizures in their owner and could thus become a very useful companion. This training has to be carried out by behavioural specialists for this type of work and it is important to use dogs who have been selected for their suitability".

The benefits of, and concerns about, people with epilepsy keeping dogs were explored in the September 2000 edition of 'Seizure', the European Journal for Epilepsy. Val Strong of the charity Support Dogs based in Sheffield, and Stephen Brown from the Developmental Disabilities Research and Education Group at the University of Plymouth, reported on 36 cases of pet dogs, who suffered significant adverse health effects as a result of spontaneously reacting to, or anticipating, epileptic seizures in their owners. These included three cases in which the dog died, and 12 cases in which the dog exhibited aggressive behaviour towards humans. However, they also reported that where dogs had been specially trained as Seizure Alert Dogs, these adverse effects were not seen.