By Sian Bradley
A dog has received his own degree certificate after graduating alongside his owner – for being a good boy.
Henry, four, works as a medical detection dog for owner Elizabeth Draper, who has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) which causes her to black out five times a day.
So when Elizabeth, 24, graduated from Writtle University College in Chelmsford, Essex, with Henry by her side, both got a surprise when he was handed his very own certificate too.
The animal sciences graduate, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, believes she wouldn’t have been where she was today without the help from her trusty golden Labrador pup.
She said: “My condition got worse during my studies, just after I got Henry.
“He came just in time.
“I wouldn’t have graduated without him, he’s my best friend and works so hard.”
Elizabeth was first diagnosed with POTS at the end of her first year at university.
The condition means nervous system doesn’t work in the typical way, causing her heart rate to ‘rocket’ when she stands up.
This causes her to faint without warning from day to day movements.
She said: “To start with I only knew I was going to faint around one second before it happened.
“It meant that I had no time to react.
“I could blackout anywhere and there was always a risk that I’d hurt myself as I did.
“Luckily I never broke any bones or got seriously injured but it was just a matter of time.
“I had to be babysat all the time.”
The condition got so bad Elizabeth had to take a year out from her studies.
It was during this time that she came across the Medical Detection Dogs charity, who provide specially trained dogs to detect a change in scent triggered by diseases.
Through this process, Elizabeth was introduced to Henry and while it’s not guaranteed that the pairings between dogs and individuals will work first time, Elizabeth knew immediately he was the one for her.
She said: “When Henry came into the room, I immediately felt a connection.
“I saw the trainers sharing excited glances as we said hello to each other and I knew he was the right dog.”
Henry spent six weeks being trained by the charity before spending another six months at home with Elizabeth to ensure he adapted fully to her lifestyle.
With his help, Elizabeth was able to detect when she was about to pass out up to five minutes before she did.
While she can’t prevent her blackouts, Henry’s help means that she can get to a safe and comfortable place while they pass.
It meant that Elizabeth could complete her degree and graduate from university.
But on the day of her graduation last month, the university had another surprise.
She said: “Before I went into the ceremony, my lecturer tapped me on the shoulder and asked everyone to gather around.
“As he was handed his certificate I tried my best not to cry.
“It’s fantastic that his hard work is recognised and the university have been so supportive during the whole process.
“All throughout the day people I didn’t know were pointing at Henry and telling their family about him.
“He was like a little celebrity.”
Elizabeth is currently taking a gap year before returning to university to undertake a Masters degree.
She openly documents about her condition and Henry’s help on social media and the pooch has earned his own group of online fans.
Elizabeth said: “Henry’s given me my life and independence back.
“Thanks to him I can do things alone again and continue to plan my future.
“He’s my furry best friend and I’m eternally grateful to have him in my life.”