Adele, a 13-year-old black Labrador Retriever, is one of the country's first cardiac alert dogs.

Credit: WGBH News

For One Boston Woman, Cardiac Alert Dog Is A Life Saver

February 1, 2018

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They say a dog is man’s best friend, and one local service dog is living proof.

Adele, a 13-year-old black labrador retriever, is one of the first cardiac alert dogs in the country. She is a literal life saver to Marty Harris of Boston.

“She has this presence to her," Harris said. "I used to joke that when I would walk down the street with her, people would get out of the way.”

Harris, 46, was born with a heart condition that causes fainting spells. She said she has suffered seizures daily since she was a baby and has sustained more than 30 concussions. After consulting doctors, her future appeared grim.

“When you get a diagnosis and you try all of the normal things that would work for this condition — none of it worked for me," Harris said. "I have a very rare complicated version of the disease. At one point, the doctors said, 'Marty, I’m sorry, there is really nothing more we can do for you.'”

Harris worried she would have to endure fainting spells for the rest of her life. Then one day, she heard of Canine Partners for Life near Philadelphia. In 2006, Harris met Adele, a specially-trained cardiac alert dog. Harris said the two of them hit it off immediately.

“She started alerting me right away and, in the beginning, every time she alerted me, I would lay down because I didn’t know how severe it was,” Harris recalled.

Adele was the first graduate of the training program at Canine Partners. Since then, nearly a dozen other cardiac alert dogs have been trained there. Canine Partners also trains dogs to serve people with seizures, narcolepsy, paralysis and other medical conditions.

Training a cardiac alert dog, which takes two years, costs around $30,000. The price for the dogs is much lower. The nonprofit asks for a payment of $1,000 to $3,000.

For Harris, Adele served as an early warning system, springing into action when she sensed Harris’ blood pressure had dropped.

“Sometimes she just wants me to stand still, so she’ll stand in front of me to keep me from moving for a few minutes. She’s like a brick wall,” Harris said. “If I had to lay down, she would lay across me to keep me from getting up. She would go up under my legs to get the blood to my heart faster.”

Once, according to Harris’ husband Jeff, Adele was even able to catch her mid-fall during one fainting spell.

"He said, 'You started to go down and she bowed her body up and she caught you, so your head never hit the floor,'" Harris recalled. "She caught you and lowered you to the ground.”

Harris fainted only twice in the nine years Adele was on the job. With Adele by her side, Harris started doing things she enjoys again.

“I was hiking up mountains and white-water rafting and I was going on all these great adventures with her that I probably wouldn’t have done,” she said.

A few years ago, the duo got the attention of Harris’ former neighbor and filmmaker Melissa Dowler.

“This is an incredible story," Dowler said. "I’ve never heard anything like what these dogs were capable of. I didn’t even know there were cardiac alert service dogs.”

 Dowler decided to make a film about the pair.

“What I realized is that we had documented an unbelievable love story. Marty Harris and Adele’s relationship — it's like soulmates,” Dowler said.

These days, Adele is a movie star who gets to spend her day lounging around the house. She retired two years ago and is now the family pet. Adele only works now and then, supervising Hector, a 4-year-old yellow Labrador and Harris’ current cardiac alert dog.

Harris said hat’s the right kind of job for Adele. “She likes telling people what to do," she said.

Adele's semi-retirement is well-deserved after a long career of service.

The movie is titled “Adele and Everything After,” and is available on iTunes, Amazon and cable and satellite providers. 


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