Seizure alert dog Cobble hits the beat to a better life.

The Metropolitan police officer and formerly fit and active mum of two developed epilepsy out of the blue in 2015. Life as she knew it stopped as she suffered several major seizures a week which led to numerous serious injuries.

Last November Nicola graduated through Support Dogs, epilepsy seizure alert programme. The years of undetected seizures and severe depression have been overtaken by a new sense of optimism and reassurance provided by life-changing dog Cobble, who gives her a 100 per cent guaranteed warning of an oncoming seizure.

“I’d been a Met police officer since 2002,” recalls Nicola, aged 41. “If you’ve seen Road Wars, I was a typical cop that drives fast cars, chases baddies and jumps over fences – that was me. “Then one day I was off duty and fell and banged my head in the supermarket. Two weeks later I went into the same supermarket with my mother-in-law, and woke up on the floor with her standing over me in a state of panic. That was my first tonic-clonic seizure. “A paramedic who attended said it was probably a one off. I felt fine and drove back home. “A week later as I was getting changed at work I apparently collapsed again and had a second seizure. I felt fine afterwards but was taken to Queens Hospital in Romford. I had an MRI scan and they found bleeds on my brain from the fall. From then on, the seizures didn’t stop, and got progressively worse. “My life literally turned upside down.” At that time Nicola had two young children aged three and ten and was a full-time mum. “I did all the shopping and driving, but suddenly I couldn’t drive or work.” she says. “I was having about six seizures a week, and about eight temporary absences, and it was getting unmanageable. The kids were terrified.”

As well as the seizures, which left her weak and disorientated, Nicola also suffered serious injuries from falling during the seizures. She fell down the stairs on numerous occasions, broke her hand when she fell through the oven door, and had to have four skin grafts after falling on to a hot iron. She has both tonic-clonic seizures(formerly known as grand mal) when she goes rigid and convulses, and absences (formerly petit mal), plus complex partial seizures which are a combination of both. In all cases, she is oblivious of her surroundings for several minutes, and can take up to an hour to recover.

Nicola was on anti-depressants and was wondering what the point of life was when her husband Mick saw a programme about Support Dogs on TV. Nicola was accepted on to the Support Dogs epilepsy seizure alert programme, and qualified in late 2022. Cobble gives her a 37-minute advance warning of every oncoming seizure, enabling Nicola to sit on the sofa or lie on the bed. Cobble often lies on the bed with her as she recovers.

Nicola admits that as someone who had never had a dog before, being in the company of a working dog for 24 hours a day, even one as beautiful as Lab Retriever cross Cobble, took some getting used to. Fortunately, husband Mick had been a dog handler in the Marines so was able to give her a few pointers. “I’d been an OCD houseproud person, but I soon got used to hair everywhere,” she says cheerfully. “Our partnership has really strengthened over the past year that we have been together. He is so obedient – he used to be slightly distracted by my two boys but now he is definitely more focused on me all the time. And he keeps me company during my working day.”

Happily, after an eight-month break Nicola was able to return to work as a policewoman, working remotely from home. In fact, she was awarded her 21- year long service award this year. “I live an hour and a half away from the nearest police station, so if Cobble were to alert me I wouldn’t be able to get somewhere safe, so I work via Zoom and teams,” she explains. Since getting Cobble, Nicola’s seizures have reduced to one tonic clonic seizure a week and two temporary absences. “Just having him there is so reassuring,” she says. “Thankfully, since having my beautiful ‘Wobbsey,’ I’ve not suffered any more serious injuries and now have an amazing alert time. It’s not only reassured me and improved my confidence, but massively given our sons confidence that they can seek help from an adult if they feel worried at all.  “They know I have got him and if I am home alone Cobble is there. That reduces stress – knowing when a seizure is going to happen is one of the biggest benefits of having a dog – it’s definitely far better than waking up on the floor!”

“He has never missed a seizure, which is quite amazing”

Cobble alerts Nicola of an oncoming seizure by “following me like a piece of Sellotape! I can’t move without tripping over him, almost strapped to my leg. That’s my cue to check in with him and if I don’t respond he gives me a head butt. He has never missed a seizure, which is quite amazing,” she says.

Nicola’s two sons, Oliver aged 11, and Callum, who is 16, both adore Cobble, who is now an important part of the family. And she makes sure he has plenty of down time on their walks which can take a while as so many people want to stop and chat about him when they see his Support Dogs jacket.

The placid, handsome dog is the perfect ambassador for Support Dogs. Recently he attended a black-tie event on a Thames riverboat for the Met Police Federation with Nicola and Mick. She adds: “Cobble stole the show and was exceptionally well behaved – the Met’s senior ranks didn’t get a look in!” Nicola’s confidence has grown so much since having Cobble that the family are thinking of planning a holiday abroad. “That I have the confidence to even contemplate that shows how far I’ve come,” she says. The only thing that she can’t do is drive – which used to be her passion - but Nicola says she is now much more accepting of life as it now is. “I’m in such a better place than before.

Looking back, I wonder how on earth did I cope mentally? I lost my driving licence, had so many injuries from falling when I had a seizure, but now I have got Cobble it makes so much difference,” she says. “Everything is so much brighter than before. I can’t thank Support Dogs enough for what Cobble has done for me. He has completely changed our lives.”