Hetty, the world’s first-ever dual-trained seizure alert/guide dog, is preparing for well-deserved retirement.

For the past six-and-a-half years, Hetty the black Labrador cross has been providing unique, truly life-changing support for Toni Brown-Griffin.

Hetty is the charity Support Dogs’ most famous canine - the world’s first-ever dual-trained seizure alert/guide dog. She has  won national honours,  made TV appearances and has more than 55,000 followers on Twitter.

Toni‘s complex medical conditions means she needs constant assistance and Hetty - nicknamed ‘Turbo’ because of her phenomenal energy – provides that.

Toni, from Tunbridge Wells, is registered blind and has intractable epilepsy.

She  says: “Hetty is fundamental to my life. Everything I do is because of her. Without Hetty I’d be stuck. I used to say I had epilepsy with a little bit of life, but now thanks to the incredible support provided by Hetty and Support Dogs I have a life with a little bit of epilepsy.”

Trained by Support Dogs and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Hetty gives Toni a warning 42 minutes before she has an epileptic seizure by resting her muzzle on her left thigh, giving her time to get to a safe place. That’s in addition to her guiding duties.

While the duo were training Toni could have up to 30 seizures a day, but their frequency has now greatly reduced.

Toni has suffered from severe epilepsy for the past 20 years, and at one point was having 12 major and 40 minor seizures a week.  For a time her life effectively came to an end; she was in and out of hospital, and relied on carers when her husband Dan went out to work.  

Her life was transformed when she picked up a leaflet for a charity looking for suitable candidates for a pilot study on seizure alert dogs. That was the start of a long relationship with Support Dogs which continues to this day, and Hetty is now Toni’s fourth assistance dog.

Eleven years ago Toni suffered retinal bleeding during the birth of her second daughter, and lost her sight. But even that setback failed to dent her determination to be as independent as possible.

Thanks to Hetty, Toni is able to have a busy, active, life. She has gone back to horse-riding, riding in half-hour bursts and checking in with her dog to make sure her next 30 minutes will remain seizure-free. She also goes swimming with her children, and regularly walks for ten miles a day with Hetty around their home in Langton Green near Tunbridge Wells.

But now a series of injuries and bouts of ill health - due partly to being attacked by other dogs - means that Hetty will be retiring next year.

In 2015 Hetty was attacked on three occasions by other dogs while out with Toni. Because of a new law brought in the previous year to protect assistance dogs, two of the attack dogs were seized and their owners prosecuted, but for Hetty, the damage was done. Now the hunt is on to find a very special replacement dog that combines all her extraordinary qualities, and over the next 18 months the charity will begin searching and training a new support dog for Toni, while ensuring that Hetty has a healthy and happy retirement.

Fittingly, as Hetty approaches retirement, she was been nominated for another award, this time the Hero Pet award in the Amplifon Awards for Brave Britons, for unsung heroes who represent the ‘Best of British’.

“Hetty is going to be a tough act to follow,” says Toni.  “All four of my support dogs have been very different personalities and I like to think of each partnership as a different chapter in my life. You may not always get the dog you want – I requested a large yellow male Labrador, and Hetty turned up – a little black female. However, you do tend to get the dog that you really need, and I really needed my turbo-charged Hetty!”

Support Dogs’ chief executive Rita Howson adds: “It will be a very, very difficult task to find a dog that combines all Hetty’s guiding skills with her ability to detect seizures. In many ways Hetty is utterly irreplaceable - a superdog.”