Death Warnings by Dogs

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Watchdogs

An experiment conducted by the Technion and the Ariel University Center proves: dogs can foresee the future – and are capable of warning of impending death

Nitzhia Yaakov

Bakeman and friends

Photo: Yehoshua Yosef

“It happened in December about two years ago in the Abarbanel Mental Hospital, Bat Yam, in the course of an experiment with ‘health dogs’ that warn of epileptic fits, rise and fall of sugar among diabetics etc. that we were conducting with the Ariel University Center in Samaria,” recalls Uri Bakeman (57) from Herzlia. “The dogs suddenly started to go wild and act in an irregular fashion. They barked and ran around like mad, it was crazy.”

Bakeman, who has been training dogs since age 12, immediately knew what it was about. “It lasted for two days. I told the confused staff that they were giving warning of death. On the morning of the third day the dogs entered the institution, were restless for a short time and then calmed down. The ward manager later told us that one of the patients had taken his own life. The dogs sensed his distress two days prior to the act.”

This experiment opened the way to many additional studies including several studies Bakeman took part in with the Ariel Center and the Technion School of Medicine. The objective was to develop the dogs’ capabilities of reading human brain waves and train them to tell conditions of distress that may culminate in death. “In 1995, a couple of parents came to me to provide their daughter, disabled due to CP, with a dog,” recalls Bakeman. “The girl was 7 years old. I still remember her, black haired, sweet. I gave them a white Labrador bitch that changed her life: she arranged her legs when sitting, lifted her head when it dropped back, brought her things. We were in constant touch and I saw the good it did for her – she was a girl that had a lot of joy with her bitch.

“A year later, one Saturday morning at 7am, I got a phone call from the parents notifying me that the girl had died of a heart attack several moments earlier. They told me that during the 12 hours that preceded her death, the bitch went crazy, whine and barked and the relatives didn’t realize what was about to happen. Only later did we find the connection between these things. In retrospect, had we had the current knowledge that when a dog signals of someone about to die – I immediately remove them to a place that can provide medical attention, e.g. hospital. In case of a soldier about to go on a mission – he will be dismissed and a prisoner in distress will be under increased supervision. Thus we are able to save lives.”

Bakeman got his first dog from his parents when he was 6. At the age of 12 he joined a dog training course at the Israeli Kennel Club recommended by his neighbor, the late Minister Haim Bar-Lev. Upon his discharge from the military, Bakeman set out to New York, USA, to study how to train guide dogs for the blind and deaf. For a short period he even worked with Dr. Daniel Tortora, the first dog psychologist in the world. Since then, as he attests, he has never stopped searching for innovations and inventions, including a “combination dog” for a quadriplegic whom when the dog could not be harnessed to him it was harnessed to his pants.

Among other things, Bakeman is the first person to train an assistance dog for diabetics and is now trying to integrate death alarm dogs in institutions and organizations including the military, mental hospitals and prisons.

In the near future, a training course for dogs for populations with special needs is about to open in the Tel Aviv branch of the Ariel University Center, under Bakeman’s management. The course will provide the basics of the knowledge Bakeman has gathered about canine behavior and the honor students, says Bakeman, may be able to work with him on other projects he is developing. “I have been trying to develop this issue before the September 11 attack, and only in the past three years have some good people decided to help realize my dream – including Igal Cohen Orgad from the Ariel Center and Dr. Yuval Eshed.”

“Ever since I remember myself, I have had immense love of dogs and in New York when I first encountered assistance dogs for the disabled – I realized my destiny in life is to do good and touch others with the help of dogs. Now we also have an opportunity to save lives,” concludes Bakeman.

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