January 19 will be a memorable day for Hunter, a 17 year-old high school student with Type 1 Diabetes of Mystic, Connecticut, as he welcome into his life a Diabetic Alert Dog from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers. Hunter’s dog, a Labrador Retriever named “Sassy,” has already received thousands of hours of training as a diabetic alert dog and it will continue to learn under the careful guidance of a certified trainer from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, “SDWR,” and through the rapport it develops Hunter. SDWR has a mission to provide specially-bred and trained dogs for adults and children with invisible disabilities like Autism, PTSD, Seizure Disorders, and Diabetes.
Hunter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes almost 12 years ago and has lived with the daily challenges of this life-threatening disease. Unlike Type 2 diabetes that can often be controlled with a balanced diet and watching one’s weight, Type 1 is caused when a virus attacks and permanently shuts down a person’s pancreas causing them to need insulin 24 hours a day.
Hunter’s diet must contain a careful balance of foods with a special focus on the amount and intake of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have to be covered by insulin injection or through an insulin pump that is attached to the body delivering insulin through canulas—similar to small IV catheters. Blood glucose levels have to be monitored several times each day and night, as well as after exercise or sleep. Common illnesses like a cold or flu are especially difficult for people with Type 1 as viruses and fevers almost always cause spikes in glucose levels.
Blood glucose levels that are too high or too low are life-threatening events for people with Type 1 diabetes. Now with the arrival of the Sassy, Hunter will have yet another tool, a four-legged one that has received foundational training to monitor Hunter’s diabetes.
Dan Warren, Founder and President of Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, indicates that the Organization’s diabetes alert dogs are trained to recognize and alert on the scent of low and or high blood glucose levels. “When Hunter’s blood glucose begins to fluctuate, his service dog will pick up the scent and give the alert for ‘high’ or ‘low’ blood glucose levels.”
Often diabetics don’t “feel” their blood sugar fluctuation and their bodies are slow to react to how their insulin pumps have been programmed. These events can lead to dangerous lows, which can result in seizures, coma, and even death. Implanted glucose monitoring systems are often 20 minutes behind an alert dog’s sense of the glucose movement. Electronic systems measure parts per million while alert dogs have been shown to scent parts per trillion.
People may also sleep right through a glucose monitor’s alarm, whereas a trained diabetes alert dog is taught to be persistent to the point where it will go get another member of the household if the dog’s “person” does not respond. Additionally, these amazing dogs are trained to retrieve essentials needed such as Glucose tablets, Glucagon, insulin, juice boxes, testing meters or retrieve medication from a designated spot in the house. Alert dogs are further trained to dial out on K-9 equipped phones to summon emergency medical help if needed.
Sassy will also work with the SDWR trainers and Hunter towards public access certification. Dan Warren is quick to point out that, “all the incredible services these dogs can provide are through progression, hard work and dedication of the Organization and the family who must work together to build on training foundations and fundamentals. This is about an 18-month training program.”
What sets SDWR apart from other service dog organizations are the customized training methods and SDWR matches dogs to their “person.” According to Dan Warren, “that important bonding time between dog and person can begin to happen right away. For the over seven years we’ve been utilizing this method of dog placement, we’ve achieved amazing results. To date we have almost 600 dogs working across the country and around the globe.”
Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers is a non-profit organization based in Madison, Virginia, and relies on donations to help the Organization in its mission, “Until there’s a cure…there’s a dog.”
To make or donation or learn more about SDWR, please visit the website, http://www.sdwr.org/. To learn more about Diabetic Alert Service Dogs visit http://www.sdwr.org/service-dogs/diabetic-alert/. To find out how you can volunteer or serve as a puppy raiser visit http://www.sdwr.org/volunteer-opportunities/ .
Special thanks to Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers