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.
A diabetic’s best friend: life-savers and life-changers
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.
This 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.
As I sit here preparing for tomorrow’s lecture on Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs), I can’t help but marvel at myself and muse about what has caused me to change — I used to be so shy and reserved; and now I am preparing to take the podium, once again, to talk about diabetic alert dogs, Early Alert Canine (EAC), and my life with my diabetic alert dog, Rainie. These changes must be due to passion!
I am passionate about telling the world about diabetic alert dogs and the safety and sense of companionship they bring. And Early Alert Canines! There is so much to tell about this organization also. EAC provides these life saving and life changing dogs to diabetic children as well as teens and adults. Affecting the lives of families with diabetic children is what excites me the most. This is why I became involved with EAC – because of their intention of making DADs available to families with young diabetics, and because of my memories of growing up with diabetes. I remember when I was too young, or my blood sugar too low, for me to say, “I need help!” During the 56 years I’ve been diabetic I’ve experienced all sorts of changes in technology, beliefs, and protocols; but I can easily admit that nothing has changed my life as positive a way as Rainie has. I want to share this with the world.
Diabetic alert dogs give diabetics of every age the advanced warning of quickly changing blood sugars, so steps may be taken so dangerous situations may be avoided. By doing their jobs, the dogs may help to reduce fear, increase emotional and blood sugar stability, increase the overall sense of peace-of-mind, and provide the sort of acceptance only a dog can. I want to do what I can to educate the public about DADs, and, help change the lives of people living with and influenced by diabetes…
…So tomorrow, I ascend the podium.
I 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…”
Will work for
(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
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.
Will work for
(but I’d prefer a steak!)
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)!
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.
Please, enjoy the show!
~Hilary and Rainie