When five-year-old Peter arrived at Sunday school with a dog, I was taken aback. The sleek Yellow Lab nuzzled the boy, who joyously hugged the neck of the dog, and while this image wouldn’t be out of the ordinary in many situations, I wasn’t used to seeing dogs inside of the classroom.
Peter, his mother explained, has type 1 diabetes, and his diabetes service dog, Jasmine, alerts him when his insulin levels are off. It didn’t take long to understand the severity of Peter’s condition, as I watched him battle a disease he had no control over – appearing lively and playful one moment, and pale and weak the next.
While situations like Peter’s are scary for teachers, parents, and those who are responsible for the child, with the help of dogs like Jasmine, Peter and those who love him, can relax in knowing they have another – in this case – nose to rely on.
How Can Diabetes Services Dogs Help:
- Detect insulin levels: The dogs can use their sense of smell to test if a diabetic’s insulin level is too high or low. This can be detected because when the body’s insulin is at an unhealthy level, it naturally releases chemicals that change the scent of a person’s bodily secretions.
- Signal insulin levels are unbalanced: A dog can alert the person with an established object, indicating their levels are off.
- Give the diabetic what they need: After alerting the individual, the dog will bring them objects like juice bottles, a cordless phone, or a diabetes monitor to help them best treat the situation.
- Provide physical support: The dog can also act as a brace if the person has fallen or needs assistance standing.
- 24-hour monitoring: Additionally, the dog often sleeps in the same room as the diabetic, waking them if their levels become unstable.
According to Forecast Diabetes, a magazine put out by the American Diabetes Association, the number of diabetics who utilize Diabetes Service Dogs is limited, as the training can take two years, and it can cost a minimum of 20,000 dollars – a price many can’t afford.
Training the dog is no easy pursuit, claims Dogs4Diabetics, Inc, an organization that has scent-trained over 120 Diabetes Service Dogs. Of the dogs they train they are successful placing 70 percent of the dogs received from Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence, and only 10 percent of the dogs from rescue organizations and private breeders. They have less success with private breeders and rescue organizations because those dogs often receive less prior obedience training.
Is the cost and training really worth the outcome?
This past November a young girl, Faith, and her Diabetes Service Dog, Ruby, were featured on CW33 News, highlighting how Ruby has, and still is, saving her life. Alerting Faith and her parents as many as thirty times a day, including when Ruby is sleeping, if her insulin levels spike above 180 or hit below 100.
Ruby, like many other Diabetes Service Dogs, has changed the lives of those around her. Statistics from Dogs4Diabetics, Inc. support this, as 2-6 percent of deaths in an insulin-dependent diabetic are most likely triggered by hypoglycemia – a statistic Diabetes Service Dogs can help combat.
Watching the hope in both Peter and Faith, as well as in their families, reminds a person how dogs, being the best friends that they are, can change our lives for the better, and in some cases, even save them.
If you would like to donate to dogs4diabetics, Inc. please visit, www.dogs4diabetics.com and click the orange “donate” button on the right.