'My dog was my midwife and she was amazing,' says new mum in Milton Keynes

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Belle is the first dog ever to be allowed on the Labour ward at MK Hospital

Meet Belle – the assistance dog who guided her owner through pregnancy, birth and caring for a new baby.

The two-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier has this week won a national pet of the year award after judges heard her remarkable story.

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Since she was a tiny pup, she has been trained by her owner Amee Tomkins to be an assistance dog, helping Amee deal with her autism, anxiety and panic attacks.

Amee with Olly and Belle immediately after the birthAmee with Olly and Belle immediately after the birth
Amee with Olly and Belle immediately after the birth

Loyal Belle has never left her owner’s side, so when 33-year-old Amee fell pregnant after 12 gruelling years of fertility treatment, she knew there was no way she could be pregnant and give birth without Belle.

"Belle helps me in so many ways… She can tell when I’m about to have a panic attack and guides me to the nearest exit. She presses buttons on lifts and she even holds my debit card against the machine to pay for things when we’re shopping.

"Basically, without her, I’m too anxious to leave the house. I’d just stay indoors a day and every day.”

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Belle dutifully accompanied her owner to every midwife appointment, every scan and every hospital visit throughout the difficult pregnancy, which was complicated by Amee developing pancreatitis and requiring frequent hospital treatment.

Belle checked over baby Olly as soon as he was bornBelle checked over baby Olly as soon as he was born
Belle checked over baby Olly as soon as he was born

The steadfast staffie was by her side throughout frequent ambulance trips and hospital stays, when doctors allowed her to sleep on Amee’s hospital bed, resting her nose gently on her bump, near her belly button.

"It was as though she was checking the baby’s heartbeat. She even learned to tell the difference between the baby’s heartbeat and my own… It was such a reassurance,.”

As the pregnancy progressed, there were special meetings – with Belle present – with the perinatal team to discuss how the birth would be managed in a way to cause Amee the least stress.

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"It was decided a C-Section would be better for my anxiety and autism as I’d know exactly what was happening. Belle was allowed to stay with me before I went went to theatre and we were given our own room so she could stay with me and the baby afterwards. I was really happy with that. There was simply no way I could have done it without her.

Belle never stopped her midwife duties at the hospitalBelle never stopped her midwife duties at the hospital
Belle never stopped her midwife duties at the hospital

"She was the first dog ever to be allowed on the Labour Ward at MK Hospital. It was amazing.”

Baby Olly arrived in the world at a healthy 7lb 7ozs, much to Amee and her partner Paul’s delight.

"As soon as Belle saw him, she gently sniffed him then gave his face a tiny lick to welcome him… Since then she has never left his side,” she said.

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"Instead of resting her nose on my bump, she’s switched to putting her nose on the baby’s belly button as though she’s checking his heart and breathing are ok.

Belle doesn't leave baby Olly's sideBelle doesn't leave baby Olly's side
Belle doesn't leave baby Olly's side

"My midwife at the hospital was just fabulous, but having Belle with me is like having another midwife there all the time, to keep me calm and check on myself and Olly.”

Four weeks after the C-Section, Amee had to return to hospital for another surgery, this time to remove the gallbladder that had made her so poorly throughout the pregnancy.

Again, Belle came too, resuming her position at the foot of her owner’s bed and being fussed over by all the doctors and nurses.

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Today little Olly is eight weeks old and Amee is fully recovered, back at her Woughton home, and enjoying every minute of being a new mum.

“The baby is in his crib next to our bed and Belle sleeps next to the crib. She’s constantly watching and checking on Olly. She adores him.

"Being a new mum can be an anxious time for anyone, but, at the risk of annoying other new mums, I’m actually finding it quite easy. I’m sure it’s because of Belle’s help.

Belle is the perfect support system for a newborn babyBelle is the perfect support system for a newborn baby
Belle is the perfect support system for a newborn baby

"After 12 years, I thought I’d never conceive a baby. When I did, it was a very complicated pregnancy and there were times when we feared the worst. It’s a miracle I’m still here and safe - and my baby too. The doctors and nurses were brilliant, but we have Belle to thank too.,”

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Already Amee is taking her son to baby sensory classes – where Belle is welcomed as the only dog present.

Belle is already a familiar sight at Heronshaw School on Walnut Tree, where Belle works as a ‘cuddle dog’ with the young pupils, through a charity called Canine Concern.

She is also an official charity dog and has travelled as far as London to help calm and comfort people. Amee pans to resume all these duties, with baby Olly in tow.

Amee’s vet was so impressed with Belle that they nominated for a special national award.

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"We were thrilled when we heard she’d been shortlisted, and now we’re over the moon that she’s won!” said Amee.

The award is designed to single out very special pets who have shown bravery themselves or enhanced their owner's life in some way, providing support and companionship.

Amee is thrilled on behalf of the staffie breed, which is the past has sometimes has a bad name through the dog fighting underworld.

But they are also known as ‘nanny dogs’, for their capacity to bond with children and guard them.

"I could not be more proud of Belle,” said Amee. “My life would be nothing without her and I just know her and Olly will be the best of friends.”

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