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In The News!

Just four short years ago, a group of us sat around a friend’s dining room table to share our ideas about creating a non-profit organization to train blood sugar alert dogs for both children and adults with diabetes. These ideas became Early Alert Canines. As of last week, we have now placed 28 dog-teams AND were featured in an article in the San Francisco Examiner!

Please read on and help us celebrate.

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A diabetic’s best friend: life-savers and life-changers

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Have you ever been distracted by an intense conversation or outright forgotten something important because of an all-consuming school or work project? Imagine being a type-1 insulin-dependent diabeticwhose life depends upon constantly monitoring your blood sugar level. Being vigilant is a way of life with even a momentary lapse possibly being fatal. Imagine trying to lead a “normal” life and concentrate on anything other than your health.

Imagine a dog that can be trained to reliably alert on life-threatening blood sugar changes focused completely on you, his human. This dog is willing to work 24/7 – not any, but all day and night shifts. With service dog status, this dog is perfectly behaved in public and allowed to accompany you anywhere through life, actually giving you a chance to tend to the world outside of your disease and live “normally.”

Since 2010, Early Alert Canines has trained diabetic alert dogs to “recognize the biochemical scent that a diabetic’s body emits as the blood glucose begins to drop, thus avoiding acutely dangerous hypoglycemia and long-term diabetes complications.” Imagine what dogs such as these mean to the diabetics paired with them. Imagine what dogs such as these could mean to diabetics yet to be paired.

As a non-profit organization, Early Alert Canines depends on volunteers, partnerships, and donations, and even shopping. There are many ways to volunteer, from photography to office work, to fostering and actually working with the dogs walking and grooming. Partnerships exist with business and community organizations from Kaiser Permanente to Moran Stanley Global Impact Fund to Capitola Reef and Girl Scout Troop #31935. Donations are always appreciated, and as of October 23rd, Lucy’s “pay it forward” goal of $5000 is halfway to its mark. Lucy’s story is a both moving and insightful personal look at what one dog is doing for two diabetic brothers. And finally, EAC’s online store offers a way to help spread the word about its mission.

As we head into this holiday season of giving, consider what you can do. Whether volunteering, partnering, donating, or shopping, Early Alert Canines offers many opportunities to get involved. Dogs are amazing, and EAC helps them be so much more than just pets.

Decisions, Decisions … To alert or to continue carrying the stick?


IMG_0150This morning, I could see in Rainie’s eyes that she was making a difficult decision. Genetically, she is a retriever, so having something in her mouth can be very important. Yet she is also a trained blood sugar alert dog. This makes alerting me to my rapidly changing blood sugars important, also.

And on our walk today, she found a stick. (It is actually unusual for her to carry sticks, despite her being a golden retriever/Lab.) She seemed very proud of this stick – she held her head high as she pranced nest to me with the stick in her mouth. But suddenly she turned to look at me with an inquisitive look in her eye. She repeatedly looked up at me, then at the treat bag I always carry for her, and then towards ground. Suddenly she dropped the stick, nudged me twice, and then picked up her stick again without even waiting for her treat-reward.

She made the right decision – my blood sugar was dropping quickly.

 

 

 

A Nature Walk

IMG_0270There is something about the rain that brings out the little kid in me, especially after the rain-parched winter that California has had this year. When I hear the rain on the roof and smell the odor that comes from moist earth, I want to grab my rain jacket, hat and boots and go play outside with Rainie. Despite her name, I think Rainie truly prefers to get wet from the bottom-up, the way she does in the ocean while wading into the water; but once she begins to frolic in the tall, wet grass, and romps in the ‘lake’ that forms in the corner of our driveway, her reticence is soon replaced by pure glee.  Last night, as I listened to the rain hit our skylights while watching the occasional lightning fill the sky, Eddie Rabbit’s song “I Love A Rainy Night” filled my head.

However, I think more songs should be written about the morning after a rainstorm when the sun glistens from every leaf and everything is fresh and clean. Rainie and I set out for an early morning walk. It was so early that despite the sun being up, there was no one else around.  I felt like we had the world all to ourselves.

IMG_0261Rainie was so excited to leave the house.  As her body enthusiastically followed her nose, it looked as if every smell that had ever been before was, somehow, different – I swear, every singe blade of grass was calling for her attention.  Soon she was smiling while saturated from the tall, wet grass.

What astounded me was the wildlife that emerged. The air was filled with a chorus of birdsongs – there is no question in my mind that the acorn woodpeckers are by far the noisiest with their raucous, raspy chatter.   Quail darted all around in their haphazard way. Whole coveys quickly scurried out of the underbrush and noisily disappeared when the sentry male trilled that their domain was being interrupted (by me). I had a cottontail bunny dash over my foot as I took an unobservant step. And when we got to the big open meadow, a deer and her two fawns were grazing, completely unaware of Rainie’s and my presence. The picture was breathtaking with their grace and solitude.

IMG_0023From Rainie’s perspective, I don’t think she could have cared less! Along with everything else that was going on, the gophers were out too. And as much as the bushes needed to be inspected, so did the gopher holes. She kept running from mound to mound, sniffing and occasionally taking a moment to dig … until she found the one that required further exploration. She began digging so fast that the dirt flew up behind her. Occasionally she would rise from her should-deep hole to check to see that I was still near, then her hunt would continue. A few moments later when I was not paying attention while watching a couple of hawks circle overhead, I felt a very wet nose nudge my hand. I looked down to find a very happy Rainie looking up at me with a mud caked nose. She was sitting up on her back haunches, alerting me. I was completely unaware that my blood sugar was dropping.

As we walked towards the car, glucose in my mouth, I looked over my shoulder just in time to see an owl swoop down and grab a gopher from the area where Rainie had been digging.

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The alpaca came to visit

The alpaca came to visit

 

 

“I Told You So!”

IMG_1227If Rainie could talk, I’m sure there are times that she’d be saying, “I told you so!”

This happened again today.  I was up in my ceramics room trying to create feet on the bottoms of some nearly finished bowls when Rainie began alerting.  I sensed she might be right because my balance and depth perception seemed a little bit off.  Upon doing my blood sugar I discovered that I was slowly dropping, so proceeded to eat a snack, and went back to work.  I wanted to push through and get this job done.  The dryness of the clay was just right – not too hard and not too soft.  But despite my intentions, she kept alerting!  I felt fine.  I had just eaten and needed to get my ceramics work done!  That was until I cut right through the semi-dry bowl with a semi-sharp tool.  She was right.  I hadn’t sensed that  my blood sugar had continued to drop and I wasn’t feeling how unstable I’d become.

As I tossed down my tools and took off my apron in pure frustration, Rainie flopped down on the floor with an exasperated sigh which loudly stated, “I TOLD YOU SO!”  

What else can a diabetic alert dog do? (As well as an introduction)

Will work for  Cheerios (but I'd prefer a steak!)

Will work for
Cheerios
(but would prefer a steak!)

“Hi.  My name is Darwin.  I am a Diabetic Alert Dog.  I alert this girl’s parents when she is having a high or a low blood sugar.  The parents reward me with Cheerios but I think I deserve a STEAK.  After all I save the girl’s life all the time.  If you agree, please like this.  The girl’s parents said id I get 10.000 lkes I get a STEAK.  Thank you!”  ~~ This photo was originally posted on Face Book; and although I’ve written about Darwin in the past, if you haven’t had the opportunity to meet this regal, layed-back, newly graduated black Lab and his 4- year- old charge, please check into their new blog (hilariously written from Darwin’s perspective, and voiced by his human mom.) DarwintheDAD.com

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Laura and Darwin just graduated from EAC as a certified diabetic alert dog team.  Since Laura, being only 5, is too young to be Darwin’s designated handler, “Team Darwin” includes her parents also.

It is impossible for me to express how the life of a family with a young diabetic child changes once a DAD (Diabetic Alert Dog) enters the household.  Many parents have said that they have a huge sense of relief knowing they have yet another team member to watch over their child, in a way that they cannot.  The dogs help bring a sense of peace of mind, increased safety, caring, companionship and friendship to all, not just the immediate family.

Because Darwin has been trained to have two distinctive alerts, one for highs and another for low/dropping blood sugars, Darwin’s alerting is also allowing Laura to identify the sensations of high and low blood sugars, give them appropriate names, and verbalize the feelings.  This is an incredible and unforeseen gift!  The world of how these dogs help us continues to evolve.

Hooray for “Team Darwin!”  And, as for my alert dog Rainie, I believe her preferred  reward for alerting me would be either pumpkin pie, or graham crackers with peanut-butter.

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Will work for  Cheerios (but I'd prefer a steak!)

Will work for
Cheerios
(but I’d prefer a steak!)

 

And I thought she was showing off!

It's been a hard day (actually, it's been many hard weeks)!

It’s been a hard day
(actually, it’s been many hard weeks)!

This is the sort of picture I would usually get of Rainie after an event such as a diabetic walk, or tonight’s EAC Crab Feed, or any time there are many people with diabetes in one area — as a diabetic alert dog, she is always aware of everyone’s blood sugar.

However, I took this photo yesterday after I dumped jackets, etc., on the floor before bringing in the groceries from the car.  Rainie was exhausted.  We had just come back from a very crowded grocery shopping (she gets very nervous when there are many shopping carts being pushed around, and her “I’m nervous” behavior includes nudging, which is also one of her ‘alerts’), and my blood sugar has been in what I like to call “super-ball” mode for the past few weeks.  Rainie has been very busy alerting on all the highs and lows.  I didn’t realize that she was also doing this while dodging the other shoppers.  Fortunately for me, she rarely gives up.

I had run into some friends in front of the egg section.  (I hadn’t seen them in a long time and joked about their recognizing me because of Rainie).  Well, as we talked, Rainie begin nudging me.  I petted her, knowing that my bs (blood sugar) was fine, having just done it in the car.  As I acknowledged her, Rainie looked at my friends for what I assumed was attention.  She does this sometimes because she is a true flirt!  After a few minutes of “annoying me” my friend suggested I might want to take something; so I popped a glucose tablet in my mouth – despite the fact that I knew I was ‘fine’.  I wanted to keep talking.  When we finally said good-bye and I was in line at the cashier, I did my bs.  It was unchanged from what it had been in the car.  “Show-off!” I thought!  I was annoyed.  But Rainie would  not stop alerting, in fact, she was ramping-up.  So when I got to the car I did my bs again and found it had dropped 50 points between then and the check-out line!  Good girl, Rainie!  I ate more glucose while sitting in the car; and while waiting for my bs to rise I rediscovered that my CD player was still out of discs and that I still wish they would make chocolate or peanut-butter flavored glucose.   Sigh.  It took 20 minutes and many glucose tablets before I was safe to drive.

Thank you, Rainie (and Jan and Chris)!

Given as a gift

This YouTube video was made by one of Early Alert Canine’s newest teams as a Christmas gift to EAC’s head trainer.  Valerie does a wonderful job of explaining about life with Type 1 diabetes (T1D), as well as the role a diabetic alert dog, and the impact that one has on the life of the diabetic, family and community.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlHdzrZzfXI

Please, enjoy the show!

~Hilary and Rainie

 

Laura Consoles a Friend

IMG_2581When a service dog is first bought home, it is important that he interact only with his new partner and not be distracted by others.  This is primarily for bonding purposes, and so the dog learns who and what to focus on.

Even though I understand this rule because I am a service dog owner, it’s sometimes even hard for me not to ask if I can pet other service dogs because of my own love for dogs in general.  “No touching or distracting” is a ‘rule’ that all service dog owners must constantly reinforce with the public.

Here is another story about Laura and Darwin (see my last post) and how she is helping teach others about these stipulations.

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(Written by Laura’s grandma)

…The trainers urge all of the clients not to let people pet Darwin because, especially in the early days of being home, he is learning to focus on Laura.

In public, such as a store or at yesterday’s soccer game, people have been understanding.  It’s harder, however, when people we like and who are passionate about animals want to pet him.  He is such a handsome dog, with an earnest expression and that shiny, silky coat, that people say they just want to hug him.  Yesterday (our friend), although completely getting the point, was telling Darwin that she was sad about not being able to hug him and that she was just going to break into the house sometime to give him a huge hug.

Laura disappeared to her room for a few minutes and returned with her 12 inch high, bright red plastic Red Rover puppy from a game. She handed it to (her friend) and said she could pet it. If an adult had done this , or even an older child one could suspect a smart- alecky attitude, but Laura said, “I don’t want you to feel bad.”

Darwin Alerts in the car

Darwin Alerts in the car

A Mother’s Letter (and, An EAC Success Story)

Laura and Darwin

Laura and Darwin

Early Alert Canines has just finished another team training where two adults with diabetes were placed with blood sugar alert dogs, as well as one family with a four year old daughter with diabetes.

The young family has been home with their dog, Darwin, for almost one week.  Face Book postings are telling the wonderful story of how Darwin is reveling in his job of alerting to high and low blood sugar changes.  Sometimes when a dog first goes home with his new partner, it takes a while for the dog to adjust to the new routine, new people, and new environment.  NOT DARWIN!  In the few days he has been in his new ‘forever home’ he has alerted the mother of his new young charge, Laura, at pre-school, at home, during soccer practice and during dance class.  Good boy, Darwin!

I would like to share this ‘post’ written by Laura’s mother, explaining how difficult it is to regulate a young child’s diabetes, and what a gift Darwin has already been in their lives:

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It was brought to my attention that with all the posts recently about how great Darwin is at helping us manage Laura’s type one diabetes, as well as posting about highs and lows, that people might perceive it that we didn’t have control without him. First of all, T1D Managment is an art, not a science. The body is always changing and so do insulin needs. When Laura is getting sick, we know ahead of time from wacky numbers. When she’s stressed, we can tell from the numbers. We are constantly changing insulin ratios to try to match her insulin needs. As you can imagine, it’s a daily battle that is hit and miss. Large swings in the numbers is normal, while not ideal. One has to be most concerned about lows and chronic highs.

Prior to having Darwin we would have to rely on trying to read the signs of highs and lows from Laura’s behavior and mood. She’s 4. Sometimes a 4 year olds behavior is similar to a diabetic having a low. With Darwin, he smells a difference and he can let us know. Laura can tell us if she’s low if she’s relaxed. But in the soccer situation, she showed no visible signs of a low nor did she mention anything. Darwin helped us intercept that before it got very dangerous.

We have also used a continuous glucose monitor that works with her pump. The CGM can give us an indication if she’s on the way up or down. It’s not 100% accurate and there are delays in the readings. There is a 20-30 minute lag time generally. Darwin will, in most cases, be able to catch a low before it happens. The CGM is also one more piece of equipment Laura has to have punctured into her. As a mom, if I can get similar or better information from a black fuzzy doggie rather than a sensor stuck in her I will use the dog.

That being said, new technology is always in the pipeline for T1D management. When the new stuff comes out, Laura will have it.

In future posts I will be more clear about how Darwin has changed the way we handle things.

Type one diabetes sucks. I will use anything and everything to make sure Laura is as happy and healthy as she can be. For now and for ever.

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T1D means Type 1 Diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and—at present—nothing you can do to get rid of it.  (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation)

A person who has been diagnosed with T1D must take insulin in order to say alive.

Dizziness and Disorientation

IMG_2620This virus has had a hold of me for about three days now.  Again, I woke up dizzy, with my blood sugar way too high.  Rainie had woken me up in the middle of the night for me to check, and my meter read more than 300.  Even when I got up four hours later, after giving myself many units of insulin in the wee hours of the morning, my blood sugar was basically unchanged.  And I’m dizzy!  Argh!  So, once again, I gave myself my more insulin, ate a light breakfast, and had my husband drop us off at Rainie’s and my latest favorite walk – a beautiful Redwood forest a few miles from where we live.  I figured that even though I’m not feeling good,  there’s no reason Rainie shouldn’t have a good time.

As we descended the steep trail through the trees toward the river, Rainie alerted me.  Finally!  My blood sugar was beginning to come down.  Good girl.  At the bottom of the path, about 20 minutes later, she alerted me again – my blood sugar was finally into the ‘safe’ zone.  Good girl.  As she was romping with another dog in the river, a very wet Rainie ran up to me, alerting again.  I discovered my blood sugar was falling rapidly.  In fact, too fast at this point – between the dizziness and the exercise, I had no idea.  Good, good girl!  I ate some glucose tablets (I hate them, but they work), and called Rainie to leave her friend and follow me back up the trail.  A few seconds later (well, probably a minute) she alerted again.  I still had the taste of glucose in my mouth, but reluctantly tested. My blood sugar had fallen to too dangerously low to be out in the forest by myself.  I was beginning to get worried and confused.  Should I eat more glucose and keep walking?  Or should I eat more glucose and sit down for a while and wait for it to work?  I put 5 more tablets into my mouth, knowing I had about 45 minutes of steep hiking to get to the top of the hill and back into cell phone service.  I proceeded to dizzily plod forward … until Rainie blocked my way.  She would not move or let me by.  When I finally figured I had no choice, I sat down on the ground, AND RAINIE SAT ON TOP OF ME!  She did not let me get up until the glucose had taken a hold and I was back into the ‘safe zone.

Here’s sharing my life with a low blood sugar alert dog with you.  Thank you, Rainie!