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Archive for September, 2012

I’m Exasperated … and Rainie’s Doing Her Job!

Wow!  It’s been one of those days!  I’m trying to get out the door for a speaking engagement, when the telephone rings.  It’s a doctor’s office wanting to talk about one of my bills (which had already been paid by insurance).  I’m frantically late and trying to be polite while Rainie is pawing and nudging me.   I tell her that she’s a “good girl” while trying to take notes about the telephone call.  I’m truly beginning to feel annoyed!  I’m getting wound-up as the time slips past – the caller persistently insists I need to pay. (I’m one of those who hates being late!)  As I pull up my insurance records on the computer, Rainie continues to annoy me by alerting.  I do my blood sugar, which seems fine (123 – one of my favorite numbers simply due to its sequentiality).  Finally, the phone call resolved, I dress Rainie in her vest, grab my purse, leash and everything else I need, and rush out the door.  Rainie stops!  She won’t get in the car.  Usually she jumps right in without hesitation.  Not this time.  She is quite adamant about not budging – so I lift her in and shut the door.  I’m steaming!  I hurry to the driver’s side, open the door, and find Rainie in my seat.  She never does this except …

…. except when my blood sugar is too low and she’s keeping me from driving.  I take a deep breath and do my blood sugar.  It had dropped 50 points.  I was too low to drive.


Happiness is a Warm Puppy!

belly up with her friend “Hoops”

While Rainie and I were shopping at Trader Joe’s, we were hesitantly approached by two of the store supervisors who asked if they could pet my service dog.  My darling girl truly loves men, and as they cooed over her, telling her what a pretty girl she was, Rainie assumed took her favorite position as she melted into the floor and rolled belly up for tummy-rubs.  Soon we were enveloped in a circle of people (mostly elderly, since the local retirement community’s bus was parked outside), all sharing dog-stories and memories, while laughing and petting Rainie’s tummy.

A good time was had by all.  And  Rainie’s smile stretched from ear-to-ear.

EAC Graduation Press Release

Here is the link to today’s news article about Early Alert Canines‘ recent graduation!


Text from a Guest Blog I Wrote for “Bitter-sweet Diabetes”

Here is the text of the guest blog I wrote for “Bitter-Sweet Diabetes”.  Please click on these links if you would like to see the final versions:



IMG950618Life with a Diabetic Alert Dog

Rainie is my diabetic alert dog, and even though I’ve experienced lots of changes and advancements in diabetic technology since I was diagnosed 55 years ago, nothing has changed my life as much as Rainie has.  I hope to explain about diabetic alert dogs (DADs), and tell you some stories about how she has impacted my life.  Please note: when I refer to Rainie’s training, or the training of a DAD, I am talking only about the training Rainie has received.  I help to train the dogs at Early Alert Canines (EAC), and am supported by EAC’s head trainer, Carol Edwards, in order to keep Rainie certified with ADI (Assistance Dogs International).

First, let me answer this question: What is a Diabetic Alert Dog (also known as a Hypoglycemic Alert Dog)?

A diabetic alert dog (DAD) has been trained to recognize the biochemical scent that a diabetic’s body produces as the blood glucose begins to drop.  Upon smelling the scent, the dog will then alert its partner, thus avoiding acutely dangerous hypoglycemia and long-term diabetes complications.  Some DADs are trained to smell and alert on the scent of rapidly rising blood sugar also.

Rainie and I have been a team for over two years now.  When we were placed together, she was a semi-rowdy, 20 month-old, golden retriever/yellow Lab puppy.  She was raised as a seeing-eye puppy, but was ‘career-changed’ and trained as a DAD because she is very afraid of motorcycles.  Now, she is my best friend, non-judgmental companion and perpetual blood sugar alert system. Because she is a service dog, she can come with me anyplace the general public is allowed.  And her presence and constant monitoring allows me to experience a greater peace of mind.  I’m more confident because she will alert me before I get into trouble.

I like to consider her alerts a warning, as if she’s telling me, “Pay attention to your blood sugar NOW!  You’re changing fast.”   Her alerts begin as gentle nudges that will get stronger if I ignore her – even to the point of getting my husband, daughter, or a friend if I’m not paying attention.  Rainie has been trained to be ‘on duty’ no matter where we are or what we’re dong.  She has alerted me in places like the movies, on hikes, while I’m in the shower, in restaurants, at the farmers’ market, on airplanes, working in the garden, at the doctor’s office, while I’m swimming at the gym, etc.  She will wake me up at night (which is important), and once got my husband from another room when I was sick with a high fever, and was too asleep to notice her nudges, which proceeded to her lying on top of me.  She alerts me when I’m driving, and has blocked me from getting into the driver’s seat when she’s felt my blood sugar is too low – and she was right each time!

There are many wonderful things about having a DAD.  First of all, her alerting indicates my BS is dropping at this instance.  In fact sometimes the dogs alert before the meters can measure a change.  They can even smell that your blood sugar is going to drop soon! (And this is much more accurate that the 20 minute delay of a continuous glucose monitor.)  The first time Rainie alerted me early, I was at work.  I did my BS and it was 180 after breakfast – that number was expected, so I did my BS again 10 minutes later (as I’m supposed to do), and it was about 182.  But she kept alerting me! I repeated a test again 10 minutes later, and the reading was 179. Yet Rainie kept alerting.  Finally, I tested myself a fourth time, and my BS had dropped 100 points!  I was amazed, and ate some glucose.  Another pleasure about DADs is that their alerting is consistent and non-judgmental.  I don’t tend to get annoyed at Rainie like I would if my husband told me, “Hilary, don’t you think you should check your blood sugar?” I know she’s alerting out of duty and love.  And by alerting when my BS (blood sugar) begins to drop quickly, I can often avoid going too high afterword (often called ‘re-bounding).  My liver no longer has the need to push glucose out into my blood stream because my blood sugar levels haven’t gone so low that the liver is signaled to correct the hypoglycemia.  Having a dog is also a wonderful way to meet people, get exercise, and I find I’m not so self-conscious about having diabetes.  People will ask me, “What does she do?” or “What does she ‘early alert on?” and I’ll tell them that she is a diabetic alert dog and smells my low blood sugar.  I can then talk about diabetes and DADs without having the focus on me.  But I think the best ‘gift’ I get from having Rainie, my diabetic alert dog, is a fuller sense of peace-of-mind.  I no longer have to fear that my blood sugar will drop and that I’ll be unaware of it.  I can exercise, drive, and do almost anything while not worrying that I’m falling into danger.  Because of having diabetes so long, I can no longer feel when I’m going low, and having Rainie’s attention and monitoring makes me feel safer in the world, and during sleep.  My family doesn’t worry as much about me either.  My husband isn’t afraid to go on long trips because he knows that Rainie will help to keep me aware and safe.  And, even with all her life-saving responsibilities, Rainie knows just when to put her head in my lap when life with diabetes has gotten me down.

One of the reasons I’m excited about working with Early Alert Canines (EAC) is we train and place DADs with families with young diabetic children.  We call those dogs “Skilled Companions”.  I wish every family with a diabetic child could have a DAD.  Looking back on my own childhood, I wish I had had a blood sugar alert dog.  The dog would have been able to express what I, as an infant and child, could not.  The dog could have affirmed to my parents that my blood sugar was dropping, and that I was not cranky from teething pains, growth spurts, adolescence, etc.  And even though kids might get angry with their parents, a gentle nuzzle from a dog is usually returned in kind.


As a nurse, and a person born with diabetes, I can only imagine what a dog could do for a parent’s peace of mind.  The dog would be another set of eyes and ears (and nose) to monitor the young child’s (or children’s) BS levels and alert the child’s parent when appropriate.  The DAD can help shoulder some of the parent’s responsibilities, while, hopefully, allying some of their fears.  One mother who just graduated from EAC with her son and their dog tearfully exclaimed, “Thank you!  I don’t feel so alone!”  Here is another story that shows why I’m passionate about DADs being placed in families with diabetic children: One dog has been placed in a home with three diabetic children under age 6.  The dog sleeps in the hallway between the children’s bedrooms, and alerts the mom when one of the kid’s blood sugar begins dropping rapidly, bringing her to the appropriate child.

I apologize for getting on my soapbox!   I wish I could tell you all the ways Rainie has changed my life and my relationship to my own diabetes.  She is my friend and constant companion, as well as being my perpetual blood sugar alert system.  She has truly saved my life at night and during one particular walk on the beach.  There are so many stories to tell – and Rainie and I have only been together for a little over two years.

I’d like to make myself available to anyone who has questions about life with a diabetic alert dog!  Please feel free to read my blog RainiAndMe.wordpress.com or contact me at mailto:HilarythePotter@gmail.com.

And, for those individuals interested in reading a blog about having a DAD while in college, please read my friend Amelia’s blog http://www.doggoestocollege.com

And one last story: Not long after Halloween, I was walking Rainie when a little boy named Jason came running with his cape flying behind him as he swung his light-saber from side to side.  He was yelling, “Hey! Is that a Ewok?”  I laughed and introduced him to my golden retriever named Rainie.  He wanted to know why she had a red jacket on.  As I explained to Jason and his mom that Rainie is a diabetic alert dog and that she notifies me when my blood sugar is dropping rapidly, the mom began to cry — Jason had just been released from the hospital after being found unconscious due to low blood sugar.  As we were talking, Jason looked up at me, with his arms around Rainie’s neck, and said, “If I had a dog like Rainie, she would keep me safe – just like my light-saber.”

What does it feel like?

Twin Sisters
Leslie and Rainie
Both Diabetic Alert Dogs

“What does diabetes feel like?” This is a crucial question when you’re caring for, or dealing with diabetes, and its life-impact. If you have your own experiences, please comment, so that more of an understanding can be shed.”


Sometimes Rainie’s nose amazes me! I was driving past the kids’ playground to get to the part of the park we hike in every morning when Rainie uncurled from the floorboards, and frantically began smelling the wind coming through the open window. She was obviously in some distress, so I pulled into the parking lot, leashed her, and let her out. She immediately led me to the play area, and began alerting on a little girl who was running up the slide with a pink pump clipped to the back of her pants. Little pink-sweatered arms soon encircled Rainie, as I talked to “Emma’s” mom. Yes, her blood sugar was low (65), after having refused to eat breakfast. As Emma’s mom and I talked, she mused, “I wonder what it feels like for her when she goes high and low?”

This is a question I’m often asked, “What does it feel like?” It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to explain the answer . I’ll try to describe how it feels to me. (Please remember that I’m describing this as an adult diabetic. When I was young, I had the same feelings, but no words to describe them with.) And as I describe the differences between ‘low’ and ‘high’ blood sugar, please realize that a diabetic often fluctuates between the two states many times a day due to the nature of diabetes.

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, might be fun if it weren’t so scary and disorienting. Hypoglycemia is potentially life threatening because the brain’s only fuel-source is sugar, and with too little sugar, the brain cannot function properly. Therefore, most of the sensations of low blood sugar are brain-based. If my blood sugar (BS) is dropping slowly, the symptoms may be unnoticeable at first and slowly become stronger;  and if my BS is falling rapidly, I catch the symptoms as soon as I can. The first symptoms tend to be a general ‘fuzziness or blurriness’ in my thinking and perception. It is very easy to not even realize anything is wrong, and slowly become agitated and frustrated because ‘things just aren’t right’. I may also get very cranky or whiny.  One of  the most aggravating symptom of low blood sugar is frustration.  I like to describe it by saying, “On a scale of ‘one-to-ten’ my frustration tolerance is ‘a negative-three’.”  It gets in my way of dealing with every aspect of life, including my ability to make decisions that involve taking care of myself.  Everything becomes annoying – kids, traffic, choices, loved-ones (and others), work, my low blood sugar alert dog, etc.  I often figure out my blood sugar is falling because I’m so easily frustrated.  Living in this frustrated state is especially infuriating on those days when my body is extremely sensitive to my insulin, so I’m dealing with low-blood sugars for many hours at a time.  These periods of insulin sensitivity often happen for no reason I’m award of, and cannot be planned for or avoided.  When they do happen, it’s difficult to be patient while taking care of myself, and dealing with others.  I can only imagine what it is like for other people having to be around me! As my BS continues to drop, my thoughts and reflexes get slower and slower, and my coordination becomes poor.  It becomes more difficult to understand conversations and new ideas. I may also make relatively impulsive decisions. These are the times I’m glad I have my low blood sugar alert dog, Rainie. Her alerts keep me from doing things (like driving) when I’m still feeling ok, but could easily put myself, or others, in danger. (I am not drunk – although I may look that way.) As the blood sugar continues dropping, I become physically unstable, emotionally fragile, and easily overwhelmed. I’m dizzy, clumsy, disoriented, teary, sensitive to light, easily confused, and unable to make up my mind (which is really bad because it means I can’t even decide what I want to eat in order to correct the situation). Even though my lips and fingertips may be numb and my vision may be blurry from the low blood sugar, I get angry when people begin to question me and offer help – often becoming defiant. And I need help! And at the same time, I’m somehow unable to take care of myself. And I’m scared! If things were to continue, there is a good possibility I would become unconscious, go into ‘shock’, and, in the worst-case scenario, die.

The symptoms of high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, are much more physical than low BS’s are. The first thing I notice is a deep headache. Then I get thirsty and agitated – very ‘squirmy’ and unable to concentrate and be still. I crave water to try to dilute my sugary/syrupy blood. I’ve noticed my tongue feels like it’s a dry cotton-ball sometimes. Then, my body begins to ache. Every part of me feels toxic, as if I’ve got the achiness of the flu. I don’t want to move because it feels ‘too hard’ – like walking through mud. And my brain feels that way too. Sometimes I just want to curl up in a dark, cool room and not move. If my BS gets high enough that I begin to ‘spill ketones’, I can get very nauseated and vomit. High ketones are poison to the brain. I’m also very sensitive to the fact that a few hours after high BS begins, my vision gets blurry because the sugar in the blood makes the lenses of the eyes swell.

High blood sugars can be very stubborn and not respond to extra insulin the way low blood sugars respond quickly to sugar. Often, with high BS, the body is resistant to the insulin because of adrenaline released as a protective mechanism by the liver. This can happen as a response to low blood sugar, exercise, excitement and all sorts of emotions like fright/fear, crying and laughter. And at other times, I am extremely sensitive to my insulin and am ‘low’ for hours on end and have a hard time bringing my BS up. Frustratingly, sometimes blood sugar control seems impossible, as if it’s influenced by the weather or color of socks I’m wearing – there seems to be no rhyme-nor-reason to it. Unfortunately, even though it may only take a few hours for the blood sugar to ‘get back under control’ with either insulin (for ‘highs’), or sugar (for ‘lows’), it takes many hours for the cells in the body (and the emotions) to get back into balance.

It’s easy to get wrapped up with the severity of diabetes. But it’s a part of life, just like joy, laughter and friends.

Life with diabetes is a true seesaw. High and low blood sugars happen. It’s part of living with the disease.  If you have diabetes, or know someone with diabetes, please be patient, and be present. We all have ‘one of those days’ occasionally; unfortunately, for someone living with diabetes, ‘those days’ happen almost every day.

Please help me explain what it feels like for you – whether you’ve got diabetes, or are part of the community that knows and supports someone with diabetes. ~h