Woman heartbroken as dog that 'saved her life twice' gets dementia

Chocolate Labrador Koko helped Gemma Redmond overcome suicidal thoughts.

A woman from Newport has spoken of her heartbreak after a dog that "saved her life twice" was diagnosed with dementia.

Chocolate Labrador Koko alerted the family when a teenage Gemma Redmond, now 27, was struggling to breathe during a severe asthma attack in the middle of the night.

Gemma also said pet Koko later helped her overcome suicidal thoughts by comforting her whenever she felt down.

But Gemma could not return the favour when Koko started displaying signs of pet dementia - a condition similar to human Alzheimer's disease.

It is typically seen in dogs aged around eight to 10, as well as older cats, and goes undiagnosed in many domestic animals across the UK.

Gemma and Koko were inseparable.

Gemma, who works as a veterinary nurse in Cardiff, said: "I had Koko since she was nine weeks old and she was my companion through some dark times.

"She was my guardian angel and watching her suffer from dementia was one of the hardest things I've ever witnessed."

Gemma explained what Koko had done for her: "She saved my life in 2010 when I suffered a severe asthma attack in the middle of the night, alerting my parents who were able to react quickly enough for the attack to be controlled.

"And three years after that I was diagnosed with clinical depression, and she helped stop me from trying to take my own life.

"Whenever I had suicidal thoughts she would suddenly be there, as though she knew what was going on in my head and wanted to prevent anything bad from happening to me."

She and Koko became inseparable, with Gemma even taking Koko to work with her at the practice.

"Koko was also a patient there and underwent numerous operations throughout her life - including having one ear removed.

"And that's where I immediately took her back in February 2020 when I saw she wasn't being her normal self.

"Koko was walking in circles and only managing to settle down briefly before pacing around again.

"She would also have a glazed look in her eyes and would stand in the garden or the house as though trying to make sense of where she was and what she was doing.

"She still wanted to play but would often stop in the middle of chasing a ball and look confused."

Gemma's colleagues identified the early signs of dementia and she adjusted her lifestyle to help Koko cope.

"I tried to make each day as similar as possible and lockdown meant months of very limited and simple routine."

Gemma said the other family dog, Nala, became very protective over Koko.

Despite making changes, Gemma said there was ultimately very little she could do to help Koko.

"Sadly, as the months went by she became affected more and more by dementia - she began to sleep a lot, looked confused nearly all the time, began going to the toilet in the house and completely lost her once bubbly personality.

"My family's other dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Nala, could also sense something was wrong and became very protective of Koko whenever we went out on walks."

As a result, Koko's death earlier this year was devastating for the family.

"It was utterly heart-breaking for me and my family - we all grieved together, Nala too.

"I'll never forget Koko, but she is in a better place now and has left us with so many happy memories that can never be taken away.

"Dementia in pets is devastating to see, just like in humans - so the more awareness we have about it, the better care we can give to those suffering.

"It's also helped me with my training and I’m now able to offer first-hand advice to any clients who have a dog or cat with dementia.

"Koko was such a caring dog and I'll use her memory to help me care for all the pets I'll see throughout my career."