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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

 

 

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A Breath Of Fresh Air

IMG_0227I know I will be revisiting a topic from a previous post, but I took Rainie to the retinal doctor’s office again today.  I wasn’t a patient this time.  I’ve been scheduled for eye surgery in a couple of weeks, and I misplaced the paperwork required for the pre-op physical.  Sigh.  I think I’ve misplaced my brain also.  Anyway, this time as we entered, I wasn’t as stressed as usual – but the dread radiating from the people in the waiting room was palpable.  Even Rainie’s happy-go-lucky demeanour became sunken and withdrawn…

…for a moment.  As I stood at the counter waiting for the papers I needed, Rainie’s favorite medical assistant appeared.  Rainie’s tail began to wag as she stretched into her ‘downward-dog’ yoga pose and ending up rolling onto her back for a smiling belly-rub.  By this time magazines were lowered as all the eyes in the waiting room participated in the ‘love-fest’.  As one person came (and asked) to join in, I could see the gleaming desire in the watching eyes of the elderly patients, waiting.  Rainie and I went to greet everyone in the room.  Rainie slowly and respectfully allowed each one to embrace her, and sat in front of a very frail man in a wheelchair.  As he attempted to reach down to her, she gingerly placed her paw in his hand, then her head in his lap.

As we turned away, the man in the wheelchair said, with tears in his eyes, “That really made my Valentine’s Day!” while someone else commented on how each doctor’s office should have a dog.  The last comment I heard was, “That was such a breath of fresh air…”

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)!

Some Doctors’ Offices Truly Need a Dog

1001168_10151459887301837_453287617_nGoing to the retinal doctor’s* office has always been emotionally taxing.  Upon walking in the door, I am embraced by the overwhelming pall of depression, fear and despair, broken by the occasional glimmer of hope or relief by someone who has just received a ‘good’ report.  Patients, usually with someone there to support them, sit with their heads down, looking at the floor, or with their nose to their Kindle.  Even Rainie tends to become subdued by the general demeanor of the office.

But things quickly change once people become aware that there is a dog in the room.  As we walk in, the medical assistants will often call out, “Hello Rainie! How’s my girl!”  Upon hearing this, heads raise and smiles begin to form.  As I take a seat, the questions begin: “What kind of dog is she?”, “What does she do for you?”, and, invariably, “May I pet her?” – which I allow.

I can feel the collective dread melt as the ‘dog stories’ and memories are shared; and some of these stories are recalled from ‘long-ago’ since I am usually the youngest in the room.  As the often-fragile arms reach out, Rainie will approach and ‘greet’ those who are willing, sometimes resting her head in their laps.  The fears associated with vision-loss are replaced by brightness.

Even the doctor says that the office really needs a dog.

 

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*Retinologists are physicians who specialize in treating disorders of the back of the eye – the retina.  Most of their patients are being seen for diseases such as macular edema, retinopathy, glaucoma, detached retina, or other severe vision issues. I have been being checked for diabetic eye changes (diabetic retinopathy is one of the major side effects of long-term diabetes) since I the mid 1970s.  The emotions in each office I’ve ever been to have been the same.

Making Magic – Early Alert Canines’ “1st Annual 2-4-1 Walk”

At the starting line EAC's 1st Annual 2-4-1 Walk

At the starting line
EAC’s 1st Annual 2-4-1 Walk

Have you ever had that feeling from deep within that you know you are helping to create something magical?  This feeling truly came to light for me this past Saturday at the Early Alert Canines “1st Annual 2-4-1 Walk” (2 feet, 4 paws, 1 cause!).  About 75 people, escorted by 15 dogs, came together as a community to share their support for EAC, and show their enthusiasm for training diabetic alert dogs.

As we walked around the small lake, admiring the fountain and enjoying the sunshine, we talked.  Here are a few of the stories that were shared with me:

Lalu, a very vocal black lab-golden mix that was teamed with her young (about 6 year-old) partner and her family in April, alerted from across the gym as the little girl’s blood sugar sky-rocketed while she was performing on the uneven parallel bars at a gymnastics event.  This was somewhat embarrassing since Lalu’s vocal volume increases with the intensity of her alerting.

Again, Lalu, who is terrified by water, alerted while her young charge was swimming.  Lalu’s alert for dropping blood sugar is to raise her paw and touch.  As Lalu was alerting, she was walking toward the pool on three legs as she kept her ‘alerting’ paw raised, calling the whole time.

Jedi, was also placed with his new family in April (his young diabetic responsibility is 7). He is the classroom’s favorite ‘visitor’ each day he is bought to work there with his new ‘mom’.  Apparently, all the kids were incredibly disappointed when “Just the Mom!” came on their field trip to the zoo, with no Jedi.  (Bringing a service dog to the zoo might evoke the “pray instincts” in the caged animals.  It is recommended they not be taken to places with wild animals – even caged.)

Both Jedi’s and Lalu’s ‘parents’ expressed how much comfort is having the dogs.  They said there are no words to express what it’s like to have another set of eyes (or nose in this case) looking over their diabetic children.  And the peace of mind knowing they’ll be told about potential problems before a true emergence happens, even if it means being awakened at night, is a great relief.

On a different note, it was great to hear that one of the EAC trainers is making an ‘office-call’ to try to help resolve an alerting issue that is arising at someone’s work.

Even us “old –times” shared stories of our own: my dog, Rainie, alerting me while on the beach; and the quiet assurance provided by Norm to his T1D ‘dad’ who lives alone.  And Jason, is full of stories of how “Eli” alerts him while he’s traveling for work – regardless if it’s on a plane, in a restaurant or hotel, etc. And, yes, Eli even alerts at home and in the car.

It was an incredible honor/pleasure/moment-of-pride for me to see so much participation and enthusiasm for what EAC does.  I want to thank our ‘new recruits’ (dogs in the process of being scent trained), the families fostering them, the newly placed teams, the training/office staff, us “old-timers” and everyone else who have ever supported EAC or donated to our fundraiser.  I hope that everyone realizes that you, too, are helping to create some magic.

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Keeping Hope Alive

IMG_2530I’m always amazed how a little thing, like a simple sticker in this case, can cause an “Ah-ha” moment.

Rainie and I have just returned from our weekly trip to the local farmers’ market, where, as usual, we were soon greeted by a following of kids.  From the distance, I heard little voices shouting, “Look Mommy!  There’s a dog!” or, “Rainie! Rainie! There’s Rainie!”  The kids seem to appear individually, or by swarm.  After greeting them, and inviting the shy ones (including families) to come forward, I usually introduce the listeners to Rainie by giving them my short talk, that goes something like this: “You always needing to ask before you pet ANY dog, but especially a dog wearing a jacket, because that means the dogs are working, and have a special job to do and shouldn’t be interrupted.”  Then the kids are allowed to do what they came to do (pet Rainie), and I’ll answer the myriad of questions that are posed – i.e.” What does Rainie do?”, “What kind of dog is she?”,  “What is EAC?”,  and, my favorite, “How can I find out more information about diabetic alert dogs and Early Alert Canines (which is usually asked by adults) ?”

Recently, I’ve begun offering EAC stickers to those interested, which seems to delight kids of all ages.  (The little ones assume it is a picture of Rainie, and are pleased to be able to take a picture of her home.).  Today, a girl of about 8 approached.  She was shy as she gently knelt down and wrapped her arms around Rainie’s neck.  She seemed very interested to learn about what Rainie does for me and how she was trained.  She seemed to leave only because her mom was calling for her.  She happily accepted a sticker, and Rainie and I proceeded on our way.  Not long afterword a woman, being led by the young girl, came hurrying up to us.  The mom told us that they had been searching the bustling market to find us in order to find out more about Rainie and EAC.  Apparently, her daughter had given the sticker to her, told her about our conversation, and had asked if she could send the sticker to her cousin in Michigan.  This cousin had been diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 7 months, and is now 3 and a half.  His family is having trouble with the toddler going low at night, and has been trying to find information about diabetic alert dogs, but couldn’t find anyone willing to talk with them because the boy is so young.

After explaining that EAC does place dogs with families with young children, I, unfortunately, had to tell them that due to our being so small, and the fact that we offer life-long support to our teams, EAC must limit the placements of blood sugar alert dogs to the Western United States.  The young girl then said something to the effect of: “Well, maybe other groups will learn how to teach dogs for kids from you (EAC).  All we can do is keep the hope alive.”

But, Does She Ever Get To Play?

IMG_0042Not long ago, Rainie and I went to talk with a Cub Scout troop about diabetes, service dogs and diabetic alert dogs.  I had completed my presentation and soon the group of 50 scouts was bombarding me with questions.  They were pretty standard queries for a 2nd to 4th grade crowd: “Where does she sleep?”  (Mostly on the floor next to my bed.), “Does she always have to wear her jacket?” (No.  She wears it when we’re in public), “Can service dogs have other dogs in the house?” (Yes.  However, the service dog needs to know that he/she is the most important dog in the house in the eyes of the person that he/she is taking care of.), “How much do they cost?” (Early Alert Canines does not charge for placing a dog.), “How can I get one?” (You have to be diabetic and been on insulin for at least a year.), “Does that mean taking a shot?” etc., etc.

Then came a question I’d never been asked before. “Why is she lying down?”  I’d never considered thinking about it – especially from a child’s perspective.  Yes, she had been active and alert moments before, and now she was lying on her side with her eyes open.  So, I decided to explore the possibilities with the scouts.  We agreed that a few reasons could be that she was lying down because it was getting towards evening.  And it was possible that she was tired.  But then I explained that Rainie was “always making sure that each one of their blood sugars was safe, and that was a big job.”  I told them that Rainie did not know that they were not diabetic, but she did know that there were at least two diabetics in the room.  She was continually monitoring everyone, all the time; and although she looked like she was resting, she was actually alert and taking her job seriously.  Then there were many nods and ahh-hahs.

After the meeting was over, the boys came to pet Rainie.  I felt a young scout name Jeffery tap me on the shoulder to ask, “But, does she ever get to play?”

Yes Jeffery.  She does get time off to play!

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