When Philippa Wood came down with a fever, she gave the Wood family plenty to think about. And if that wasn’t enough, their dog started to act very strangely around her. Then one day, Bessie started to panic, and Philippa seemed to be the source of her alarm.
Philip and Paula Wood live with their daughter Philippa in North Yorkshire, England. Also living with them is the family dog Bessie, a black-and-white border collie. As you would imagine, Bessie has a strong bond with her family, including little Philippa.
However, in May 2016 when Philippa was two, Bessie’s behavior started to change around her. It wasn’t that the dog was aggressive – if anything, it was just the opposite. No, indeed, after getting worked up and under everyone’s feet, Bessie kept close to little Philippa; in fact, she started to stick to her like glue.
At first, the family thought the change signified a problem with Bessie. That’s just what Paula told U.K. TV show This Morning on August 23, 2016. “I just thought she might be going into season, or she was getting the eyes of spring.”
As the days passed by though, the Woods noticed Bessie’s clinginess only increased. Not only that, but when Philippa came down with a fever four days later, her fussing escalated. In fact, Bessie started to show signs of fear.
“[Bessie’s] behavior changed from her being a normal dog about the house to almost a panic,” Philip said. “Her expression had changed, there was a look of concern. Looking back on it, you could see she was trying to tell us something was wrong.”
Paula agreed, and said, “It was only when [Philippa] got really poorly that I noticed how scared [Bessie] looked. You could see the whites of her eyes.” And it seems Bessie’s peculiar behavior is what actually saved Philippa’s life, because it put Paula on alert.
Paula gave Philippa some painkillers for her fever, but presumably worried by Bessie’s reaction, she checked her daughter’s temperature again. To her horror, Philippa’s fever was rising. That being the case, Paula rang the emergency doctor, and told them what was happening.
“I told them that the dog was behaving peculiar,” Paula recalled, “and the doctor phoned me back. He said to bring her up.” As it happens, the doctor had heard of similar canine reactions before. He suspected there might be something seriously wrong with Philippa.
Philippa’s parents took her to the hospital, and 24 hours later, the Woods had a diagnosis. Unfortunately, when the blood tests came back, it wasn’t good news. Their daughter was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which, in layman’s terms, is an aggressive form of cancer.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia – or ALL – occurs in the blood and bone marrow. It causes the sufferer’s body to produce an excess amount of white blood cells. They push out healthy blood cells and damage the immune system, causing anemia and infections, and can cause sufferers to bleed more readily.
Just as it was in Philippa’s case, fever is one of the signs that a child has ALL, but there are other symptoms too. Among them are appetite loss, pain in the bones or joints, and a tendency to bruise or bleed easily. Painless lumps in sensitive areas are also possible signs.
Thanks to Bessie, doctors started chemotherapy on Philippa at once. There was a noticeable change in the dog’s behavior too. “[Bessie] hasn’t got that panic ever since ever since [Philippa] went into remission,” Paula told This Morning. “she’s calmed down a lot, but she’s still [protective].”
So how did Bessie know what was happening to Philippa? Was it a sixth sense? Actually, it was one of the existing five. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell, and cancer cells have a different scent to healthy ones.
Dr. Claire Guest – who also appeared on This Morning with the Wood family – concurred. “[Humans] can smell sugar in a cup of tea,” she said. “Dogs have an incredible sense of smell; this [dog] could smell sugar in two Olympic swimming pools.”
Guest later added that her own dog saved her life by warning her she had breast cancer. She continued, “What we don’t quite understand is why a [family dog] might know [cancer] is something to warn the family about.” Whatever the reason, the Woods consider it a blessing.
On December 22, 2017, the Woods gave Gazette Live an update on Philippa’s condition. She responded to chemotherapy well and finishes her treatment completely in May 2018. Philippa has started school, and her bond with Bessie is stronger than ever.
“[Bessie] is five now, and they are so close,” Paula told the Gazette Live. “She cries when [Philippa] goes to school – all day Bessie sits sulking in the chair. Sometimes, [Philippa] comes down before us in the morning and Bessie looks after her.”
“We feel blessed because if it hadn’t been for Bessie she would have suffered all the symptoms,” she continued. “They caught it so early, I don’t think she has suffered as badly. She is so young she won’t remember much.”
“Really, I think we have been blessed,” said Paula. And when Philippa does have her off days, she always has her fursibling to comfort her. “When she feels poorly she just cuddles into her big sister, [Bessie],” Paula concluded.” She has got three of us looking after her.”