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Using a Guide Dog for Diabetes Control

Ann Bartlett Health Guide June 29, 2009
  • Dogs have always been a big part of my life! My entire life I have been exposed to the love and protection that they offer to a companion they trust. Growing up, I rode horses and our barn was full of dogs, cats and other creatures.  We had personal dogs that came to work with us and we also had a hound house that kept our fox hunting hounds happy and ready!

     

    I volunteered my home in Richmond as a foster home for homeless Golden Retrievers.  At one time, we had 12 dogs in our home and I loved every minute!  To explain, we brought home one female and 4 tiny puppies rescued from a shelter that could not care for them.  We kept those puppies for 10 weeks nursing them away from deaths door and finding good homes for them.  One week after the puppies moved to permanent homes their 3-year-old mother died, all of it from human neglect.

     

    My greatest satisfaction has been being a canine mother.  Bosco is my exuberant Chocolate Lab, who sleeps on a window seat in my bedroom, where he scouts unwelcome visitors to his backyard (and who currently is sleeping quietly under my feet while a thunderstorm rolls by in the distance).  It is hard for me to imagine my life without them,  and it has been torment with the death of my companions and guardians!

     

    In December, I lost my rescue Golden, Molly.  Molly had been a backyard dog for the first 2 and half years of her life.  She was bought purely for breeding.  In just two short years she had 2 liters of pups, 8 puppies each time.  When her owner had a heart attack, he surrendered Molly, her sire and a 15 week old pup to our rescue. 

     

     

    At the time I picked her up, Molly was 38 pounds and almost no coat.  She had hookworms, whip worms, round worms and vomited every food we tried.  It took us 6 months to bring her out of poor health and into a 68-pound gorgeous, sleek red-field coated Golden. 

     

    My husband always pointed out that Molly had only one desire in life: to be with me.  Often, I would get a nudge in the middle of the night.  Thinking she had to go outside, I would take her to the door and suddenly realize I felt a little sweaty.  She was, without training, my diabetes monitor!  Molly was my companion until she was diagnosed with lung cancer last September, and we switched roles and I became her caregiver and she gave up being my glucose meter.

     

    A recent story in Google news, under diabetes, caught my attention.  It was a picture of bright, young Golden Retriever and I instantly clicked on the link. Dogs who detect diabetes have been on the rise, and why not?!  For those who can afford it, what a great blood glucose monitor: it gives kisses in addition to alerts!

     

    A friend of mine, Lahle Wolfe started a site called Isletsofhope.org.  All the diabetes info you could imagine!  Lahle's personal life has been a struggle with diabetes in her family.  Lahle is type 2 and also has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and her daughter, Elizabeth, is type 1.  Lahle is like me: a person who searchers for information and resources.  A couple of years ago, Lahle decided to look into getting her daughter a guide dog for diabetes.  Lahle has been utterly amazed at how successful their dog, Alex, has been

  • detecting Elizabeth's low blood sugar

     

    When I volunteered for the rescue, we often had meetings about special cases that would come in.  We had two dogs that we opted to place in a guide dog program because of their keen sense of play and quick ability to figure things out.  Guide dogs are really special pups; not every dog can become a guide dog. There are specific qualities that are required and then it is a 2-year program once the pups are picked.

     

    Most of us are familiar with guide dogs for the blind, but guide dogs are very versatile: some are called companion dogs and they help people who are wheelchair bound. For example, they can pay a cashier, open doors, turn on light switches, turn their companions in bed, lock footrests of a wheelchair, and drag items like laundry baskets, or wheelchairs to their loved one.  The list of what a dog can do for their companion is really amazing; I've listed just a few.

     

    We call the dogs that can sense seizures, cancer, low blood sugars and anxiety disorders super sniffers.  Of the percentage of dogs that are trained for guide dogs, the super sniffers have to go through an extra training to develop the sense and learn how to alert their companion. Not all dogs have this ability.  Because dogs have an incredible sense of smell, they can actually smell changes in the skin that tell them something is up.  With direction through training, they can learn what this sense means and alert the owners to an oncoming problem.

     

    A dog is much more than a best friend, indeed!

     

    For more information on Guide Dog and Alert Dog programs, here are some links:

     

    http://www.iaadp.org/whoswho.html

     

    http://www.k94life.org/html/training_program.htm

     

    http://www.dogs4diabetics.com/about-d4d.html

     

    http://www.cci.org/site/c.cdKGIRNqEmG/b.3978475/k.BED8/Home.htm