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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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Characteristics of a Diabetic Alert Dog

Here is a copy of the article I just finished writing for the next edition of the Early Alert Canine’s newsletter, “The Scentinel”

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1001168_10151459887301837_453287617_nCharacteristics of a Diabetic Alert Dog

Early Alert Canines is fortunate to have good relationships with other service dog training organizations that allow us to ‘adopt’ and customize the training of their “Career Change” dogs. EAC usually receives the dog candidates as young-adults between the ages of 18 and 24 months.

These dogs have been bred for their intelligence, work ethic and temperament. Early socialization to both the canine and human worlds is critical for a service dog.  It is important that the puppy remain with his litter for his first 8 to 12 weeks.  During this first stage, puppies learn canine social interaction, play, canine body language and moderating aggression from their mother and littermates. Without this, the puppy may grow up to be difficult and aggressive.

However, because a service dog’s bond to humans must be strong, a service dog-in-training must be removed from its litter, and placed in a human home at between 8 and 12 weeks old.  The window of opportunity to create a bond that is tighter to humans than to other dogs closes at about 12 weeks of age.  In the puppy-raiser’s home he begins learning the ‘human world’, basic obedience and learns his place as a member of the human pack.  The ‘puppy-in-training’ requires consistent and almost continual human interaction.  Early exposure to many different experiences is imperative to enable a dog to be successfully adaptive in the active human world.  A few examples of human-related experiences that an unsocialized puppy might otherwise shy away from are: Umbrellas, airplanes, trains, hats, cars, public transportation, shopping malls, schools, elevators, etc.

Dogs that are chosen to be trained as diabetic alert dogs are selected for their intelligence, scenting abilities and work ethics. Does the dog have a willingness to work and initiate the alerting action without being prompted?  He must be intelligent and motivated enough to smell the scent produced by the diabetic’s body when the blood sugar changes rapidly, and perform the desired behavior (alerting) with no verbal cuing or any other prompting.  He must be self-motivated to work at any time and in any surroundings, yet be able to remain quiet for hours at a time (such as sitting under a desk or attending the theater).

By playing games like hide-and-seek, the dog reveals whether he uses his eyes or nose to find food, and whether he is food motivated and thrives on praise.  For a diabetic alert dog, he must ‘seek’ with his nose, since the life-saving responsibilities are scent oriented.

Another characteristic that is imperative in a service dog is his desire to please humans and interact with us in a positive way.  Early Alert Canines finds dogs that want to give to and please their humans above all else.

After some initial testing of the dogs, and knowing their training and socialization histories, the trainers at EAC can then focus on the intense scent training and alert training that our dogs require.

Although every dog is fully scent trained, each dog has his own personality and energy needs, which must be taken into account when a match is being made for a human/dog team.

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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My Artist’s Assistant

Oh, to be an artist with a deadline approaching!  Rainie and I will be selling my ceramics at the local farmers’ market on Saturday August 25.  Since all the proceeds go to Early Alert Canines in order to help fund the training of diabetic alert dogs, we’ve been invited to man/woman the “non-profit” table.  I am so fortunate to have a wonderful hobby (ceramics) that simultaneously helps my passion to train these life-saving dogs.(EAC); this incredible pairing allows me to be up to my elbows in clay as much as I want, and help out EAC as well.

As I type, my ‘studio’ is a mess!  It looks like Santa’s workshop before Xmas.  There are pieces drying on one table, and wet pieces on a set of shelves.  The stuff ready to be fired is on top of the kiln (not a great idea), and there are more pieces waiting to be glazed.  Oh, and the potter’s wheel has a wet piece ‘resting’ while it waits to be finished.  The main thing missing are the ‘elves’.  I’m Santa and the elves rolled into one – I do everything related to ceramics, while my one helper, Rainie, does an excellent job helping keep my blood sugar level (BSL) and me in balance.

     

When she’s not actively alerting me, she’s either resting in her cave under a work-table, or watching hummingbirds out the door, Her alerting’s made me aware that my BSL drops with each piece I throw.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m throwing a small piece for a mug, or a large bowl, I’ll soon feel a gentle nudge on my thigh, or paw on my thigh that tells me it’s time to pay attention to my BSL.  And, she’s right every time, which is something I still find amazing.  I’d never realized how much my BSL changes due to the energy I expend while making pottery.  Looking back in time, I now remember the blood sugar issues I used to have while playing with clay.  It’s so easy to forget (and take things for granted).  And since I’m into remembering, the first few times Rainie came into my ‘studio’ to ‘help’ were a laughing disaster!  She soon realized that it is not a good idea to ‘alert’ me by putting her head on my potter’s wheel (wet clay must not taste very good), nor by nudging my elbow (clay doesn’t like to be inadvertently ‘knocked’ either).  Fortunately, she’s a really quick learner.

So, my wonder-dog, best friend (and elf) does a great job of keeping me company and safe while she stays away from the wet clay.  If you are in the Santa Cruz area, please come to the Cabrillo Farmers’ Market on Saturday August 25th.  We’d love to say “hi!”

               

Alaska!


How do you describe “Alaska”?  I’m going to start with the words magnificent, amazing, beautiful, breathtaking, unforgettable, and truly majestic.  As I continue to re-enter my normal, daily life after returning from our weeklong, photograph-intensive cruise, I can’t help but re-live my awe-inspiring memories as I meld into the comforts of the mundane, familiarities of the life I know.  I’m glad to be home; and I’m thankful to have gone.

Oh, and how I missed Rainie!  Even though, legally, I could have brought her with me, I decided to leave her home since we were taking a seven-day cruise.  I’m glad I did.  Since Rainie is an energetic dog who loves to go on runs and chase after balls (and squirrels), she would have been miserable having no place to run free.  For exercise, she would have had to be on leash as I walked/jogged around the wooden “Navigation Deck” that encircled the ship (3 laps = 1 mile).  And since she gets anxious in crowds, she would not have done well-being surrounded by the throngs of other passengers (2,100 total) as we searched for dining tables and waited in line to get to the buffet.  Another concern of mine was that she would have been the only dog on a ship so large.  There would always be people wanting to reach for her, and no place for her to have ‘personal space’ outside our state-room.  I believe she was much happier going to ‘summer-camp’ at her foster-mom’s were there were other dogs, a pool, and lots of loving attention. Along with missing her constant companionship (I’ve grown accustomed to having her by my side, and didn’t know what to do with my free, unleashed, left hand) I especially missed Rainie for her blood sugar alerting!  I discovered I’ve lost almost all my ability to sense where my blood sugar is.  There were times when I’d do my blood sugar “just because it seemed like it was the right thing to do”, only to see numbers in the 30s and 40’s peering up at me from my meter.  How did that happen?  I felt fine!  I never have numbers like that with Rainie around – her alerting wouldn’t let me.  I had some pretty scary episodes on the trip.  I missed her so much!

Rainie aside, our trip was incredible!  The reason my husband and I chose this cruise was to participate in a photography workshop.  Rick ended up taking over 4,000 photos.  Thank goodness we don’t use film anymore.   We discovered that the grandeur of Alaska can only begin to be caught on film

As we traveled from Seattle toward Juneau, the weather was inclement and stormy (I had trouble getting my sea-legs, which was surprising since I used to be a sailor), but after that, the seas were relatively calm, and the sky mostly sunny.  We went whale watching in Juneau.  At one point, there were eight hump-back whales doing their whale-thing near us.  None of them breached, but there was plenty of tail slapping going on.  We were told that the whales were attracted to the captain of our boat (he was one of the original whale-watchers in the area).  We also saw our first bald eagles, stellar seals, and a glimpse of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mount Fairweather

The day we slid into Glacier Bay was absolutely gorgeous.  The tranquil ice blue waters were stunning and reflected the beautiful mountains that surrounded is on all sides. It is a rare exception to see the great while pinnacles of frozen ice glistening in the sunshine.One of the naturalist onboard said that day was the first time in three years she‘d been able to see Mount Fairweather (named because you could only see it during fair weather).  We saw huge pieces of ice cleave away from the main glacier body, creating thunderous roaring crashes as they entered the water, followed by their ‘footprints’ of waves and ripples.  We were lucky because one of the ship’s pursers invited a small group of us to take photos from a high balcony that was designated for crew only.  It was a truly phenomenal day.

While visiting the town of Sitka, we hiked through the Tongas rainforest (where I would not have brought Rainie due to the wild bear population), and viewed a great collection of native totem poles.From there, we hiked to the Alaska Raptor Center where raptors (eagles, owls, falcons, etc.) are brought for rehabilitation when found hurt.  Here, the docents honored us by brining two owls and a bald eagle out of their enclosures so they could be photographed.  (This is generally unheard of, and would not have happened if Rainie were there).  The snowy owl was quite happy posing in its regal way, while the bald eagle wanted nothing to do with the paparazzi. Then came the highlight of the trip for me!  We were brought to “the Fortress of the Bear”, a sanctuary that takes orphaned or problem brown bears and prepares them for a “more positive future”.  The bears were huge!  (And, to me, loveable and so cuddly-looking.)  It was fun to watch them frolic, tease and play with each other, and pose for the camera.  After seeing the eagles at the raptor center, it was wondrous watching them dive into the bear arenas and snatch up the salmon that was being thrown for them, and the bears.  I wished we could have spent more time there – I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for bears.

We also went to Ketchikan, a quaint canning and tourist-oriented town, and visited Victoria, B.C. at night.  Both places have their charms and charisma. However, for me, the highlight of the trip is still the Fortress of the Bear; and that is a close second behind being home with Rainie.

If you’d like to see more photos, please go to my husband’s Flickr pager at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickfreeman00/sets/72157630832350612/ 

 

Day 2 of Blog Week – What do you do well?

this is day 2 of the Diabetes Blog Week, and the topic of the day is, “What are you good at?: Tell us about just one diabetes thing you do spectacularly!”

I’m surprised this is so hard for me to answer, or even think about. I just don’t acknowledge myself that way. The one thing I try really hard to be good at is not having my life ruled by my diabetes; and this requires a lot of awareness to create a balance between the ‘shoulds’ (of diabetes), and the joys of the present moment. In fact, when I find myself getting depressed, or anxious for seemingly no reason, I often realize that I’ve lost myself in the “shoulds” and fears associated with trying to “have control”, and forgetting to roll-with-the-punches, live in the present, and relax. There is nothing I can’t deal with right now. Breathe!

Me and Rainie
my diabetic alert dog

Diabetes Blog Week, Day 1 (An Introduction)

I am participating in Diabetes Blog Week, for the first time. This is an opportunity for those with diabetes, and those associated with diabetes to meet over the web, and share stories.

The topic for today is “introduce a new blog buddy”. This is easy! I’d love to introduce everyone who reads my blog to my friend, Amelia, of Dog Goes To College. She eloquently shares her life about college, having a diabetic alert dog, and her passion for advocating for those with diabetes, service dogs, and for those with other disabilities.