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Belfast airport puppy patrol takes flight to learn new skills as part of life-saving medical training

By Rebecca Black

There were some very special travellers crossing the tarmac at Belfast City Airport yesterday in the shape of eight dogs who are in the process of learning new skills that could save lives.

Deuce, Beau, Ted, Isla, Ember, Echo, Soto and Scout range in age from one to two-and-a-half years and are training to become medical alert dogs. As part of their comprehensive training programme, they were welcomed on board a Flybe flight.

The young dogs experienced all aspects of taking a flight from check-in to boarding.

Six Golden Retrievers and a Bernese mountain dog-retriever cross are in training to be diabetes alert dogs, alongside a Spanish Water Dog who is being tested to be an allergy alert dog. They have already reached a high standard of obedience and socialisation thanks to their 'puppy parents' - volunteers who look after and train the puppies from just eight weeks old.

Judith Byrne, from the charity Northern Ireland Assistance Dogs (NIAD), said they provide medical alert dogs to adults with a range of medical conditions.

"Our diabetes alert dogs are trained to warn their partner that a hypo or hyperglycaemic episode is imminent, thus allowing time for the person to get to a safe place and take medication or appropriate action," she said.

"The whole aim of these specially trained dogs is to enable the person to lead a more independent life. Flying is an integral part of most people's lives now and, as such, our dogs need to be fully confident when accompanying their partners."

Flybe regional general manager Andrea Hayes said approved assistance dogs are very welcome on its domestic flights.

"We have always facilitated guide dogs on board and as the skills of our four-footed friends have become more sophisticated, we are now seeing increasing numbers of other specialist assistance dogs," she said.

"We were delighted to facilitate the medical alert dogs and look forward to seeing them taking off with us in the future."

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