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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)!

If a Picture Says A Thousand Words…

Love And Devotion

Love and Devotion

A boy and his blood sugar alert dog.

(Thank you Sam, Cohen and Jedi & Early Alert Canines)

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.

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!

Our Three Year Anniversary

DSC04812Today is Rainie’s and my 3rd anniversary as a “Service Dog Team”

So much has happened in those 3 years, because of her

 I can’t imagine life without her!

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A Walk in the Park

Rainie in the park Earlier this spring

Rainie in the park
Earlier this spring

Yesterday, I came across a snake during Rainie’s and my late morning walk,.  It was a docile, 4-foot long gopher snake* stretched out along the path, basking in the sunshine.  I jumped and gave out a yelp — I do not like snakes (especially big ones, lying in wait to do whatever it is to me that my imagination imagines them to do)!  As it slithered away, Rainie quickly stretched up, gently put her paws on my shoulders, and looked me in the eye as if to console me (as well as, possibly, checking my blood sugar, which was fine).

Later in the afternoon, we went out again.  I was admiring the birds and noticing how dry the grasses have become.  Summer, despite the cool breeze and ocean fog that was beginning to come in, was finally arriving.  As I was walking along, paying attention, yet not paying attention, Rainie suddenly placed her body in front of me so I had to stop then and there.  I looked at her, expecting to see her staring up at me in one of her ‘blood sugar alert’ modes; but instead, she was staring at the ground directly ahead of us.   And there was a very skinny, very long snake.  It was hardly thicker than a pencil.  Rainie would not let me go further (so I decided to take a picture).  As she carefully led me around the skinny creature, the snake slowly moved away.

I can’t help but be amazed!  From our one previous encounter, Rainie somehow surmised that I am to be protected from snakes.  How little we know about dogs and their abilities.

The little snake

The little snake

* There have been no rattle snakes seen in this area for more than 20 years.  If your dog is ever bitten by a snake, please see your veterinarian immediately!

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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Three New Teams Graduate at Early Alert Canines!

"Lucy" and her boys

“Lucy” and her boys

Yesterday, Early Alert Canines celebrated another major milestone.

Three diabetic alert dogs teams were officially ‘handed their leashes’ in an emotional graduation ceremony.*  One team consisted of “Mr. Brooks”, a petite, yellow Labra-doodle and his new mistress, a long-term diabetic, soon to be retired, who lives alone.  However, for two of these celebrated teams, the ‘clients’ are actually families with multiple diabetic members.  In one family, “Lucy”, a happy and energetic yellow Lab-golden retriever mix, watches over a family with three young boys, two of whom have diabetes; and in the other family, “Bender”, a mellow, loving, gigantic black Lab/golden retriever mix alerts to three home-schooled children and their father.

All of these dogs are alerting to both high and low blood sugars.  Lucy and Bender have been trained to alert one of the parents if their charges’ blood sugars are dropping at any time, day or night.  One of Lucy’s ‘guys’ cannot sense his blood sugar at all (called hypoglycemic unawareness), and her special skills and talents are especially important for this ‘human partner’.  In the five months since the dogs have been placed in their new homes, there has been a decrease in the number of ‘dangerous lows’ and ‘unbelievable highs’, and an overall improvement of the diabetics’ blood sugar levels.  These are very busy dogs!

We like to say that diabetic alert dogs (DADs) are life-saving dogs and a diabetic’s best friend.  They are trained to alert when a diabetic’s blood sugar drops rapidly so that steps can be taken to prevent serious situations.   And low blood sugar can lead to unconsciousness and death.   So, yes, they can literally help save lives.

They also help to save lives in a more figurative manner. Their warnings help to bring a sense of peace of mind and security by providing yet another ‘warning system’ to keep the diabetic’s blood sugar in check.  The dogs can often sense the fact that the blood sugar is going to drop, before it actually does, thereby giving a truly advanced warning of impending danger.  They provide a sense of companionship for the diabetic, and another “set of eyes and ears” (and nose – in this case), for parents of diabetics.  For the parent of a young diabetic, the dogs help allow for a more restful day and secure sleep, knowing the trained DAD will alert them, even waking them up at night, and bring the parent to the appropriate child if there are multiple diabetic children; and for parents of older diabetic children, say, in college, it is a comfort for the parent to know that, even when away, their child has another ‘early warning system’.  And for the ‘more mature’ single person with diabetes, the DAD helps provide the same physical security and companionship, peace of mind for self, family and friends, and the knowledge, to all, that self or loved-one has another helping ‘nose’ and is never alone.

CONGRATULATIONS to all the teams, old and new.  May you continue to have a life of fulfillment and happiness, and peace of mind.

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* To achieve “graduation status”, the new teams must demonstrate an 85% or better alerting accuracy rate.  This means that the dog must correctly alert t >85% of the blood sugar changes tested and recorded by the diabetic client, in multiple and various situations; and the client must recognize the alert and respond appropriately.

 

 

February Edition of the Early Alert Canines “The Scentinel”

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http://library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1108404407988-37/February2013.pdf

Welcome to the 3rd edition of Early Alert Canine’s “The Scentinel”.

For some reason, seeing the newsletter in print makes me reflect on what we/EAC have accomplished in the two years and three months since the initial group of us first sat around a kitchen table to begin visualizing what we wanted Early Alert Canines to be.  (We even needed a name.)

We knew we wanted to create a non-profit organization to train and place low blood sugar alert dogs with adults with diabetes, as well as families with young diabetic children.  And we wanted to be far-reaching in the clients we serve. Thus far, in our first year of placing these life-saving dogs, we have graduated 5 certified teams, with three more graduating in March.  We have teams in Oregon, Los Angeles and throughout the bay area.  There are also 3 teams with families with diabetic children – thus far.

A training center was needed.  What a chore this was.  And we did it!  We’ve created a beautifully remodeled site, not far from a large shopping mall, public transportation and San Francisco.  The location provides many of the learning opportunities needed for training the dogs and teams.

Our trainer wanted to continue the research needed in training diabetic alert dogs, and provide documentation of her process.  Even though Carol had previously trained and placed over 60 DADs, the opportunity to train these dogs for families with very young children was new.  Needless to say, large strides have been made in this area.

Of course, there was, and is, the continued need to develop the non-so-obvious infrastructure that an organization requires – office work, applications, work, outreach, fundraising, developing our reputation, attaining dogs, etc., etc………
Thank you for coming along for the ride.   Please enjoy the newsletter!

Too busy to remember to test

JDRF1110_DSC064This past weekend, Rainie and I attended a symposium in order to talk about diabetic alert dogs and Early Alert Canines.  Since one of the sponsors of the event was the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, there were many, many kids with diabetes attending, along with their families.  Since EAC is one of the few diabetic alert dog organizations that places dogs with young children, my table was incredibly busy.  And while I talked, Rainie was getting a lot of attention – so much, in fact, that she actually fell asleep under our display table with her head in a little boy’s lap.

It had been a very long and worthwhile day.  I was exhausted as I left the conference hall, but stopped as yet another young girl (about 5 years old and diagnosed with diabetes for 11 months) approached to pet Rainie. While the mom and I talked, Rainie began to ‘nudge’ me.  I praised and rewarded her, as I told the little girl that Rainie was alerting me to my dropping blood sugar – completely forgetting to treat myself.   Over time, Rainie began nudging me more and more while I continued praising her and talking about the wonders of diabetic alert dogs.  As Rainie escalated her alerts to where she was jumping at me, the little girl said, “I think you better go test your finger!”

She and Rainie were right.  My blood sugar had plummeted! *

*Please remember that low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) causes altered and illogical thinking.  This is due to too little blood sugar infusing the brain.  For a more complete  description please see “What Does It Feel Like?”