When Emma Smith took her young sons Ben, seven, and Jack, six, to pick a puppy from a litter of Staffordshire Bull Terriers, it was love at first sight.
Right away, little Charlie came bounding over to meet the boys, and from that moment on she was part of the family.
‘She was a little bundle of energy and quite naughty, chewing everything she could get her paws on,’ says Emma.
‘But she was so sweet and loving that no one could stay cross for long.
‘We all adored her from the get-go.’
But when Charlie was just a few months old she began acting oddly, jumping up and sniffing at the right side of Emma’s chest.
‘At first, I laughed it off and thought she was playing, or that I’d dropped some food there – she knew how to sniff out the tiniest crumbs.’
Emma gently nudged the puppy away, but when Charlie began doing the same thing the next day, she started to think something was up.
With a fresh top on, she knew she hadn’t spilled anything on herself this time.
Over the next few months, Charlie became obsessed with Emma’s right breast, taking every opportunity to sniff at her.
‘I began to feel worried,’ she recalls, ‘and had a growing sense that she was trying to tell me something, so I decided to examine my boobs.
‘When I found a small lump, I was horrified, and ran my fingers over it again and again to make sure I wasn’t going mad.
‘But it was definitely there.’
Emma went straight to her GP, who referred her for tests.
Just a few days later, she was called in to see a consultant where she was given the awful news she had breast cancer.
‘I was so shocked and frightened,’ she says.
‘One of my aunts had breast cancer at a young age, but somehow I didn’t think it would happen to me.’
Emma was told she’d need a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
‘I got home and just broke down as I told my mum,’ she says.
‘The idea of losing my breast was horrific, but mum reassured me that we would get through it together.
‘Thankfully, my cancer was at stage one, and doctors were sure they could remove it.’
Telling Ben and Jack that she had cancer was incredibly tough for Emma.
‘I sat them down and told them there was something bad inside me, but that the hospital were going to help me get it out,’ she says.
‘Thankfully, they took it in their stride and were brave, which gave me confidence as I went into hospital.’
Even in her darkest hours, Emma knew she owed her life to her little pup.
‘I couldn’t stop thinking that if it hadn’t been for Charlie, I might not have checked.
‘I knew she was trying to warn me,’ says Emma.
‘I’d read about dogs sniffing out illnesses before, but I hadn’t believed it.
‘I gave Charlie the biggest hug and told her what a clever girl she was.’
Emma’s mastectomy went well, and slowly but surely she began to recover.
Her consultant explained that if she’d waited any longer before having treatment, the cancer would have spread rapidly, leaving Emma in no doubt that Charlie was her furry little hero.
Over the next few weeks, chemotherapy left Emma feeling exhausted and sick.
‘Charlie was by my side whenever I felt unwell,’ she says.
‘Some days, all I wanted to do was lie in bed and feel sorry for myself, and she’d come and give me a gentle nudge.
‘Knowing she needed a walk would always get me up and out, and the fresh air would do wonders.’
After her course of chemotherapy, Emma moved onto radiotherapy, and wept with relief when the treatment finished in September 2014.
At once, Charlie stopped following Emma around and nudging her chest, and went back to being a boisterous little dog.
Thankfully, Emma’s cancer is now in remission, and this month she will attend her final oncologist appointment.
Charlie is still very much a loving, devoted part of the family.
‘I’m so glad I can put this behind me,’ says Emma.
‘I owe Charlie my life and she deserves all the doggy treats in the world.
‘She’s my best friend.
‘For me and Charlie, it really is puppy love.’
Meet Daisy: The Labrador who has detected 550 cases of cancer
Ten-year old Daisy received the Blue Cross Medal for bravery and heroism after sniffing more than 6,500 samples and detecting over 550 cases of cancer during her time as a bio detection dog.
‘Dogs can smell changes that humans can’t,’ says her owner, Dr Claire Guest.
‘I’ve been taken into a vast room full of equipment at Manchester University and been told that it has the power of Daisy’s nose.’
She was inspired to set up the Medical Detection Dogs charity after Daisy detected her own breast cancer back in 2009.
Dr Guest had been working as a psychologist, specialising in interactions between humans and dogs, when Daisy began acting in a weird way.
‘Daisy kept pawing at my chest one day, which alarmed me,’ says Dr Guest.
‘I got it checked out and was told I had early stage breast cancer.
‘Fortunately, I was able to have it removed, but if it wasn’t for Daisy, it would have gone undetected for much longer and could have been more serious.’
Eleven years later, Dr Guest now runs the charity with 12 dogs helping to diagnose cancer and make a real difference to people’s lives.
The centre has a no-kennel policy, meaning dogs have a loving home to go to each night, and only work for 20 minutes at a time, with plenty of rest and play in between.
Cancer detection dogs: the facts
■ Dogs have a sense of smell that’s 40 times greater than that of a human being’s. While we have about six million olfactory sensors in our noses, dogs have 300 million.
■ Dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs and explosives, but their powerful noses can also detect bacteria, viruses and signs of disease.
■ Cancer cells produce odour signatures that dogs can detect in human skin, urine, sweat, breath or faeces.
■ The NHS works with the charity Medical Detection Dogs, which uses specially trained dogs to sniff out cancer and other diseases.
■ Medical Detection Dogs have been shown to detect prostate cancer in urine in 93% of cases.
■ Research is currently underway into how Medical Detection Dogs can be used to find other illnesses, from malaria to Parkinson’s disease.
■ Medical support dogs are also trained to alert diabetic owners to drops in blood sugar levels, and to help those with severe allergies avoid coming into contact with allergens.
– To donate to Medical Detection Dogs, click HERE.