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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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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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The Life of an Ambassador

Rainie locked into a puzzle of Cub Scouts

At the training center, the instructors and trainers repeat, “Remember, whenever you and your dog are out in public, you are ambassadors for Early Alert Canines, as well as every other service dog in the community.”

Oh, how true this is.  Rainie and I are frequently stopped and I end up answering questions about diabetes, what she does, what an Early Alert Canine is, how they are trained, how to apply, the rules and regulations about service dogs, and, sometimes, medical advice regarding dogs (which I usually refer to their local vet).  We were warned that when the dogs are in their vests, we would lose our anonymity – which is not usually a problem for me because I am a born teacher and (usually) love to talk.  Rainie has learned that part of “getting dressed” is enduring (i.e. enjoying) a quick brushing before she gets her jacket on.  Since I know we’re likely to get stopped, I like her to ‘look pretty’; but I think she thinks she always looks pretty, and the brushing is just an added bonus.

Besides the daily, impromptu questions, Rainie and I have spoken or appeared at twelve “outreach events” in the past two months.  Because Rainie has made such a huge difference in my life, I’ve become passionate about bringing the knowledge about Diabetic Alert Dogs to the medical and social community.  The questions and responses we get vary immensely.  My answers must be correct, and heart-felt, while Rainie does her best to keep everyone entertained.  Since Early Alert Canines can’t fill everyone’s needs, I often find myself referring people to other agencies and suggesting other places to get their questions answered.

Here is a partial list of where Rainie and I have visited in the past eight weeks:

  • The Rotary Club of Aptos and Soquel.
  • The Farmers’ Market at Cabrillo (Early Alert Canines Fundraiser).
  • Silver Oak Cub Scouts of San Jose.  (The most interesting questions asked was, “Does she ever get to Play?”)
  • CarbDM meeting with parents of children with diabetes.
  • Watsonville Diabetic Education Center.
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk to Cure Diabetes” Santa Clara.
  • Watsonville School Nurses at the Watsonville Diabetic Education Center.
  • Soquel High School, three Health-Education classes.
  • Rotary Club of Santa Cruz.
  • The “Spooktacular Event” an Early Alert Canines.
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk to Cure Diabetes”, San Francisco.

And when we get home after one of these engagements, Rainie usually runs around the house, checking on her bed and making sure her toys are still here, as if to celebrate the fact that we are, again, home!



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.”

The Trials of Being an Artist

Last weekend’s fundraiser for Early Alert Canines was incredibly successful!  I left the house with five large boxes full of my pottery, and the few pieces I cam home with didn’t even cover the bottom of one.  I couldn’t believe the attention my pottery (and Rainie) received!  The compliments were gratifying – I’d never done a big show like this.  Many people asked if I’d be back next weekend, or before Christmas.  I had to tell them I hoped to be back next year.  I knew that I was offering over a year’s worth of work, and there would be no way I could do it again any time soon.

As I was wrapping each piece to get ready for the show, I realized how unique each one was.  Some were thin, others heavy and clunky.  There were different shapes and heights and weights, even when I had tried to make a matched set.   Some people commented, and I told them that when I pick up a piece, I can tell what my blood sugar was doing while I was throwing/creating it.  When my glucose levels are changing rapidly (either up or down), my coordination and balance are affected.  When my blood sugar is high, I can’t control my strength very well; and when it is going low, I have poor depth perception, no frustration tolerance, and it’s best if I quit for the day.

When people make remarks like, “You know, you could have made this thinner/taller/bigger…(etc),” I sigh, and try to remember that, considering all I’m dealing with, I’m doing the best I can – always.  And often times, people will choose to buy the piece we’re talking about, because their knowing the ‘history’ behind it makes “even more special”.

Early Alert Canines Newsletter, Vol. 1,Issue 1

I am pleased to share Early Alert Canine’s first edition of “The Scentinel”.


1st EAC Graduating Class
Stephanie & Ozark, Nancy & Kade, Carol, Nate & Oaklie, Nancy & Hoops, Chrystal & Leslie