Diabetes


If you recall a couple years ago, I did a post (here) about Hunter, the dog we were training to be a Diabetes Alert Dog for JR.  I never told you the result of that.

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Hunter was truly a fun dog!  He ran around the farm all day, helping JR with chores, and generally finding entertainment in anything a good, farm-breed working dog would.  He also LOVED having a job to do.  He bonded very closely to JR, which was great, and by the time he was just around 7 months old, he began showing signs of alerting and scent recognition.  He was well on his way to being an alert dog.

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Sadly, though, as with many service-dogs-in-training, there is so much more to creating an all-around service dog than just achieving a specific task.  In Hunter’s case, he was so full of energy, he was usually like a spring just waiting to explode at any second.  On the farm, this wasn’t a problem.  In public, however, it could’ve turned into a problem.  No one in the general public had a clue, as by all accounts, he seemed to be a very well-trained pup, on his way to being a service dog.  He would calmly walk alongside JR, or lay up under a table in a restaurant, or whatever we asked of him.  The waiting however, was just more than he could comfortably bear.  As a habit, I always have a foot or leg touching a pup I am training in public, so I always know what they are up to.  In Hunter’s case, I could feel him just trembling with pent-up energy, and ready to leap out at the first temptation to play.  It broke my heart.

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Some issues can be outgrown.  It is possible that Hunter would have outgrown this one.  However, there comes a time when selfless and practical decisions must be made.  First, and most importantly, I want to know that a dog is truly happy and enjoying his life–while at work or play.  In Hunter’s case, he was a naturally happy dog, but I think having to remain calm in public was not something he enjoyed at all.  Secondly, even though he could possibly have outgrown the energy, from a practical standpoint, I couldn’t risk it taking several years to have him able to qualify as a service dog.  I learned in my past training that a good alert dog should be ready and able to pass a full exam such as the Canine Good Citizen Award by the time they are about 18 months old–preferably earlier.  Hunter wasn’t even close.  So, instead, we found Hunter a farm home with other mini-Aussies, where he was able to herd livestock and play and generally exert energy to his heart’s content.  Last I heard, he was adapting beautifully, and the photos they sent showed a very happy dog indeed!

Giving up Hunter was a little harder for JR, as he was very attached.  In fact, he slept with Hunter’s dog tag and a photo for several months after he left, and there were a few nights where he cried himself to sleep.  That being said, he seemed to fully understand that it was truly the best decision for Hunter.  JR knew he wanted an alert dog, not a pet, and we couldn’t have both at that point in time.  Furthermore, we all agreed that Hunter’s presence was certainly not in vain.  He had helped JR overcome some major fears he had developed with his new diagnosis.  Since learning he was diabetic, he was always scared to leave S or I, fearing he would have a low blood sugar and not know what to do.  For many weeks, he even slept on our couch, rather than going upstairs to his bedroom.  Hunter gave him the confidence he so desperately needed to go back to living life as normal.  For that, we will always be thankful to Hunter!

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After much prayer and searching, God blessed us with an adorable 13 week old Australian Shepherd puppy for JR.  If you recall, we were preparing to train a pup to be a Diabetes Alert Service Dog for JR, to help him with low blood sugars.  Although JR isn’t fully insulin dependent at this point, he is having a lot of issues with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).  We have no idea why, other than perhaps some genetics at play, since I have the same issues when I’m active, even if my insulin pump is turned off for hours.  In any case, we were searching for a medium-sized dog with a very specific temperament for JR, and one that would be a good candidate for service dog training.

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Meet “Hunter.”  We have now had Hunter for 3 weeks, and he is AMAZING!!  I have trained a lot of dogs over the years, and quite a few service dogs.  This puppy is incredible.  I have never had a pup catch on to new concepts so quickly.  He is VERY tightly bonded to JR already, which is good, is learning his scent through games we play, can already hunt him down from hiding places through scent, and he is learning commands very quickly.  We have been introducing him to public places and crowds over the last few weeks, but only in areas where dogs were allowed.  He is very patient for such a young pup, though, and has slept through our 2 and 3 hour long activities several times.  If his service dog equipment is delivered on time this week though, we are planning to make his big debut in indoor public places this coming Sunday.   We have notified our pastor and the restaurant we frequent, and they are both OK and ready.

I have no doubt at this point that Hunter has the foundation of a great service dog.  His training is coming nicely.  We are beginning to introduce him to low blood sugars, but it will likely be 6-8 months before we know if he will actually alert of his own accord.  In the mean time, we will keep training and working with him, to make him the best service dog he can be!

Most people are familiar with diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, and gestational.  I think we have stumbled on a new type, though, and no one seems to understand it.  OK, not literally, but it does make for interesting conversation.  “I have a Type 1 diabetic child….sort of.”

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JR, dressed up in period costume while volunteering at the local historical state park.

As you may know, 9-year-old JR was diagnosed with Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes back in March.  You can read more about that here.  He was discharged from the hospital on a standard-for-his-weight-regimen off 11 units of long-acting Lantus and 1 unit of short acting Novolog for every 15 grams of carbohydrate he ate.  Within about 2 days, he was battling chronic low blood sugars.  I called the doc, and was told to cut his Lantus by 1/3.  I could see he was still running low, though, so I also increased his Novolog ratio to 1 unit for every 20 carbs.  Still struggling with chronic and severe lows, including blood sugars in the 30’s and 40’s (normal levels are between 80-120), I decided to change him again.  I cut his Lantus by 2/3 of the original dose, and increased his Novolog ratio to 1 unit per 40 carbs.  This change helped a little, but he still had lows.  The poor child was sick of food, as he had to eat constantly to keep his blood sugar up.  I had to test him 1-2 times during the night, and often had to feed him a snack to hold him until morning.  He spent several evenings in tears, and often slept on the couch (close to our bedroom) or even with us because he was so afraid of getting too low during the night.  As soon as he awoke in the morning, he would check his meter to make sure I had tested him during the night (which meant I could never oversleep and skip a test I had promised!).  It was a stressful time.  Thankfully, a couple days later we had a follow-up appointment.  We discussed the issue.  The doctor was hesitant to make additional changes.  Her concern was that, if we reduced his insulin too much, he would assume he was cured and be devastated later.  I assured her that was not the case, he understood completely because he had grown up with me having the disease, and we were far more concerned about his chronic and dangerous lows.  She hesitated, and explained that it was very rare to have a child diagnosed in such early stages.  I agree that we were, indeed, blessed to be followed by the TRIGR study, so we knew to be watching for the symptoms at the time.  In any case, she gave me a plan of action, and we left.

Over the next week, we completely weaned JR off his Lantus–the long acting insulin that is designed to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.  We also continued to reduce his Novolog–the short-acting insulin designed to stabilize sugar spikes at meal and snack times.  We monitored his patterns, and finally, one day, he took no insulin at all.  And he did really well.  He didn’t have a single low!  In fact, his sugar levels were perfect all day long!  That was back in April.  Since then, he has taken no Lantus at all, and he only takes 1 unit of Novolog for every 40 carbs, which, with our diet, only happens about 1-2 times per week.  That’s right, my Type 1 diabetic son only requires about 1 unit of insulin when we eat the Sunday buffet at our local restaurant, or have the occasional, high-carb pancakes and syrup for dinner.  That’s it.  He still tests his blood sugar level, but only does so about 2-3 times a day–and mainly for his own security.  Interestingly, the biggest struggle he continues to have is low blood sugars.  Despite the fact he takes no insulin most days, almost any type of play or other exertion will cause his sugar levels to drop as if he was on insulin.  As a result, he still has to carry his little kit with him, which contains his bg monitor, glucose, and snacks to treat his lows.  Lows now range between 50 and 70 though, rather than the previous 30’s and 40’s.  On rare occasion, a meal might cause his sugar to get into the 200’s, but we rarely treat it, as his body does pretty well bringing it down without assistance.  In fact, we’ve found additional treatment with insulin causes a severe low later, which is more dangerous than a rare high level.

As it turns out, no one seems to be able to explain what is going on with him.  Clearly, he is in what is known as the “Honeymoon Period,” where the pancreas is still producing some insulin, but is slowly killing its remaining islet (insulin) cells, and he will be fully insulin dependent in the not-too-distant future.  The doctor’s guess is, considering the early stage we caught him, and the fact his pancreas got a bit of a break with the help from insulin in those early weeks, he may have 12-18 months before he reaches that stage.  In the mean time, she has told us to enjoy the time we have.  What she, nor anyone else can tell us, is why he continues to battle low blood sugars.  It seems to be an anomaly, and even the TRIGR staff we have spoken with, who are experts in the field of Type 1 and pediatric diabetes, have never seen this before.  As best we can all surmise, his body just doesn’t really know how to “calibrate” his blood sugar levels anymore, and for whatever reason, errors on the side of overproducing insulin (causing low levels) rather than underproducing (which would cause highs).

As busy as we have been this spring, this development has been a true blessing, as it bought us a few months where I didn’t have to focus so much on his health.  Plus I was allowed to sleep, which is something I desperately need to get through the day.  It has also done a tremendous amount I’m sure in giving him time to adjust to the idea, without losing all his eating freedoms at once–not that he eats that unhealthy to begin with.  Probably even more of a blessing is the fact that those around him, folks who might be prone to panic at the idea of him eating the wrong thing or having a severe sugar level, have been able to relax knowing he is pretty independent and can be treated as “normal.”  They are able to watch him test, ask him questions (which he is very good at answering correctly), and generally this seems to put their mind at ease.  He is still looking forward to getting his alert dog, and we are hoping to later this summer or early fall.  I’m hoping the more stable blood sugars will actually help train the dog faster because it is easier to get the dog accustomed to his “normal” smells, so it is more aware of his low or high smells.  This is a huge bonus when training a new pup to these scents!

It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next year or so, but we certainly count our blessings.  JR does not take it for granted, and often comments about it.  He knows what his future holds, but this honeymoon time seems to have eased his fears somewhat, as he feels more in control, I guess. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy having a non-insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetic child.

Most of you know that I am a Type 1 Diabetic, and have been for almost 30 years.  As a plug for my book, I authored a book several years ago, called “Diabetes:  Overcome Your Fears” which can be purchased on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, or directly through me (if you’d like an autographed copy).

In this book, I discuss all that I have learned about diabetes over the years, my experiences with different equipment and alert dogs, having children, finding doctors, and so much more.  With 2 biological children, I knew the statistics of them getting the disease, and could only hope and pray that our lifestyle would delay or prevent the onset.  Our firstborn, JR, has been part of a trial study called TRIGR since he was born.  At birth, he showed the genetic markers.  While this was no guarantee he would develop the disease, it did mean he had a drastically increased chance.  By the time he was 4, he was showing all the necessary antibodies for the condition, but was still free of diabetes.  We can only hope our lifestyle contributed to the this fact.  Last fall, however, his annual blood results showed a rise in his A1C results.  Again, it was no guarantee, as nothing is certain in the development at this point, as the actual trigger for the condition is as yet unknown. However, these latest results meant we had to watch more closely for symptoms.

In early February, JR began having some trouble sleeping.  It was somewhat random though, so I chalked it up to the winter cold preventing him from being as active, thus as tired, as normal.  He became increasingly emotional and sensitive, but again, we were all driving each other a little nutty locked inside as we were due to the single digit temps outside.  He began complaining of excessive thirst, but I was also drinking a lot due to the dry winter air we were experiencing, so again, I ignored the symptoms.  Finally, 2 weeks ago, I came home from a long day on the road.  It was long after JR’s bedtime, and he was crying because he couldn’t sleep again.  He said he didn’t feel good.  I knew they had waffles and syrup for dinner (a very high carbohydrate meal), so on a whim, I decided to test his blood sugar with my meter.  Rather than the usual number reading, the meter gave me the message “Blood Glucose not readable.  Over 600.”  I felt the sinking feeling in my chest, knowing what this likely meant.  I hoped, however, that he had residual syrup or sugar residue on his hands from dinner, so I sent him to the bathroom to wash his hands.  He returned and I tested him again.  I got the same reading. For once in my life, I used an almost-swear word.  “CRAP!”  I knew our lives and his life had just taken a major turn.  I didn’t like it, he knew what his future held (at least as much as a 9 year old can), and we had to get that sugar down before he became very ill.

I woke S, told him what had happened, and immediately drove JR to the hospital, 30 minutes away.  We walked into the ER, I explained the BG results to the intake nurse, and she immediately sent him to triage.  He quickly became the center of attention for a ridiculous number of doctors, nurses, and medical interns.  For the next 24 hours, he was admitted, put on insulin, given education and classes, met with one medical professional after another, and finally, we were discharged to go home.

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So begins a new phase of life for our family.  I am not just a diabetic, but I am also the parent of a diabetic.  We are able to laugh at it sometimes–like in church, when I felt weak, turned to test, sat up and discovered JR doing the same.  I was low, he wasn’t, so I “won.”  Other times, I get sick of hearing “Mom, I’m low!  What should I eat this time?”  I’d rather go back to a month ago, when he was free of disease, and had a future free of shots and finger pokes.  That is no longer the case.  Thankfully, he is a mature, responsible kiddo, and often finds the blessings in life.  He looks forward to having an alert dog like I used to.  He already does all his own testing and injections.  He is considering whether he wants a pump or to stay on shots.  He is learning what to eat and how much, and how exercise affects his bg levels.  I have no doubt his future is as bright as it ever was, only with the addition of this all-too-familiar thorn in his side to keep him humble and remind him of his mortality.  Even now, he acts like a fairly typical child, except at bedtime, when his newfound insecurities show up.  He is terrified to fall asleep many nights.  He is so scared of a having a severe low.  Although he has never seen me experience any such thing, he is a smart kid, and knows what a bad low can do.  It scares him that his insulin might take him too low one night, and he might not wake up.  He is doing better, but only with the reassurance that I will test him at night.

As a diabetic mom of a newly diagnosed child, I have wanted to cry for him many times, but the tears just won’t come.  I know the frustrations life holds for him, the humiliations he will likely experience in time, the fears of finding a wife who will love him, or the decisions of whether he should have children and risk passing on the genetics.  I hope he will never blame me for what he goes through, and that he will allow God to walk with him through those tough times.  I hope I can teach him thankfulness in all things by my example, and that he will accept his disease as part of the result of mankind’s sinful nature and not something he himself did.  I can only hope.

By the way, I will throw out a request.  We have promised to help him train an alert dog.  Alert dogs are amazing and wonderful aids for diabetics, and especially for children.  They tend to give children more confidence to go places without their parents, and to simply fall asleep at night, because the dogs are trained to detect lows and highs an act accordingly.  Will, my retired alert dog, has just gotten too old to return to service.  The poor dog can hardly get off his bed sometimes, so there is no way he could keep up with an active little boy.  Therefore, around late spring/early summer, we will be looking for a puppy to train.  Our ideal dog would be a medium-breed, labrador, golden retriever, poodle, or cross-breed.  I am not too picky about the breed itself, but I am very picky about the puppies (and parents’ if available) characteristics and will have to expose the puppy to several “tests” to see how it reacts.  The breeds listed have simply had the greatest success rates as alert dogs for children.  Other breeds have included Australian Shepherds, Welsh Corgis, Beagles, and many cross-breeds.  In fact, my first was a rescue that I re-trained.  We could take a puppy up to about 4 months of age, due to other considerations we have.  I am really preferring something that will mature to less than 50 lbs, as the dog must sleep with JR, and because JR is rather small for his age.  A smaller size would just be a better match for him.  I say all this to ask, if you know of anyone who breeds for pups that might be good for a task of this nature, we will be looking.  I would greatly appreciate any info you can offer that might help us find a good candidate to work with.  If the puppy could possibly be donated, that would be an incredible blessing for our family.

In the mean time, perhaps the rest of you could offer up a little prayer on our behalf, as we go through these early “honeymoon” phases, try to get his insulin and blood sugars leveled out, learn to immerse this into our already-busy lifestyle, and soon begin the search for that perfect dog that will become JR’s personal, 4-legged guardian.  We’d greatly appreciate it.

As a military brat who married military, I am well-versed in cross-country moves.  Packing, loading up a bunch of kids, and even living in a “TLF” (Air Force acronoym for “Temporary Living Facility,” which is really just a souped-up hotel room) until we find a home doesn’t scare me in the least.  I’ve never lived in the same house more than 5 years in my life.  I’ve slept at interstate rest stops, exercised my horse and dogs in gas station parking lots, and had more adventures than I can count.  Despite my past experiences, however, I am learning that moving a farm is a whole different ball game!

R holding Caramel.

R holding Caramel.

We had to trim down the number of animals we had, so we kept our favorites as foundation breeding stock to get Red Gate up and running.  Due to unexpected events with the goats, we wound up with more milk than we can drink now, so we wound up not buying the 4th doe I was wanting so badly.  All in all, we are moving 30 animals, including the house dog and cat.

Mocha, 2 weeks.

Mocha, 2 weeks.

In order to move, we bought a truck and trailer and had to begin planning our breeding and baby-delivery dates for all critters back in early fall, based on the moving schedule.  That turned out to be easier planned than accomplished.  I think the rabbit doe is the only one who cooperated.  I had to arrange for a ridiculous amount of veterinary and state transport permits for traveling with livestock.  Here in CO, equines and cattle must have “brand inspections” to prove ownership before you travel or sell an animal.  All goats must be registered, either through ear tags or ear tattoos, and there is NO exception for 5 lb., 2-week old kids.  Caramel’s ear was so tiny when we tattoo’ed that I’ll probably have to re-do in the future.  But it was that, or an ear tag almost as big as her head.  The poultry all had to have blood work done, the rabbits had to have their temperatures taken, the dogs had to have their rabies licenses inspected, blah, blah, blah…. Several hundred dollars later, the states and federal government have decided our animals are safe to travel.

Caramel, 2 weeks

Caramel, 2 weeks

Just as things were coming together, last Wednesday, the truck’s radiator spontaneously sprung 2 leaks.  On Thursday, it spent the day in the shop getting fixed.  On Friday, we walked out to find a truck tire going flat and the spare was totally dry-rotted.  On Saturday, we discovered the tire was unrepairable and had to buy 2 new tires.  On Sunday, the radiator sprung another leak, so it spent all day Monday in the shop again.  With just over 2 days before I am supposed to be driving this truck, loaded down with a 20 foot gooseneck trailer hauling 28 of my 30 animals, we are praying it is fixed once and for all.  I’m just so thankful it happened now instead of half-way through remote Kansas!

As if that wasn’t enough adventure, we had a bought of a stomach virus that bounced around the family, landing me in the E.R.  My blood sugars had plummeted, and because of the virus, the glucose I ate wasn’t working.  As my sugars approached the 30’s, I knew it was time for S to get me to the hospital for some intervention.  A bit of Zofran to calm my stomach did the trick, and my sugars were on the rise.  They went ahead and gave me an IV of saline and magnesium though, to replenish what I had lost.  It all worked out, but I wound up missing my going-away party at church the next day.  😦

One of the most frequent questions I have received lately is regarding how we are going to accomodate so many animals of so many different species in one trailer.  So, now that the trailer is almost set up and ready, I took a few photos to show you.

Our trailer, custom made with this trip as well as our future plans in mind.

Our trailer, custom made with this trip as well as our future plans in mind.

First, I built new, large rabbit cages, which will be our bunnies’ home for at least the first few months while we figure out what our long term rabbit plans are.  I bought the wire for several cages, but only built 2 for the trip.  Each cage measures 18 inches tall x 48 inches long x 30 inches deep.  It has 2 swing-in doors for easier access, a hay feeder, and plenty of space for feeders, waterers, salt licks, nest box, etc.

Rabbit cage

Rabbit cage

One of the cages will house our mature doe and her 2, 3 month old doe kits.  In the other cage, I inserted a section of wire to divide it in half, and it will hold both our bucks.  The divider is simply held with zip-ties so we can easily cut them off when I get the other cage built, and the dividing wire is cut to a size I can use on another cage.

The same cage, showing divider section.

The same cage, showing divider section.

I filled the gooseneck of the trailer, an area roughly 8 feet deep x 6.5 feet wide x 4 feet tall, with pine shavings.  This is where the hens and rabbits will travel.

There will be a cage on each side, though I left the other one out for the photo so you can see behind it.

There will be a cage on each side, though I left the other one out for the photo so you can see behind it.

Behind the cage are, in the very front of the gooseneck, we put a chunk of hay to keep the girls busy and a hay-filled nest box for any hens who decide to lay in-route.

Behind the cage, in the very front of the gooseneck, we put a chunk of hay to keep the girls busy and a hay-filled nest box for any hens who decide to lay in-route.

There will be just enough space on each side and in between the cages for a hen to squeeze through, which will hopefully prevent any dangerous corners where the hens could pile up and suffocate each other.  There is a “calf-gate,” or gate type panel that folds up to seperate this area from the rest of the trailer.  I forgot to take a photo of it up, but you can see it hanging down in the top photo of the gooseneck.

The next, front section of the trailer has access through the man door on the side of the trailer.  The goats and dogs will ride there.  First, I wrapped a week’s worth of hay in a tarp and tied it to the center gate.  The goats can jump on it if they desire, which is why I covered it with a tarp–to protect it from being eaten or peed and pooped on.  The rest of the area was filled with shavings and some straw for the babies and Faith, who is very pregnant.  They will have a hay bag to keep them busy, and a small bucket of water.

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The hay inside the tarp in the goat area.

 The rear of the trailer was simply bedded with lots of shavings for the donkeys.  They, too, will have a hay-bag and a bucket of water.  Because the donkeys are fairly small, I don’t plan to tie them in the stall.  They will be able to freely stand, lay down, turn around, and move a bit, which will hopefully reduce their stress load a little.

The donkey area.

The donkey area.

That’s the tour of the trailer.  Pretty simple and basic, but hopefully comfy, cozy, and stress-reducing for the critters.

Now if I could just reduce my stress!  I have packed about 80% of the house, and will try to finish the rest tomorrow.  We have another therapy appointment with the boys and I have to start loading the vehicles.  Another major challenge I discovered in regards to moving a farm is the fruitless efforts involved in trying to use up things that keep being produced!  For example, in an attempt to empty the fridge, we have been eating lots of eggs and drinking milk at every meal.  Just this morning, we ate 16 eggs and drank 1/2 gallon milk at breakfast.  30 minutes later, I went out to milk Joy and Latte.  I tried to use up some of the milk by feeding a pint back to each doe, and another pint each to the two dogs.  I still wound up filtering almost 1/2 gallon and putting it the fridge.  By day’s end, I will have at least another 1/2 gallon and 12-14 more eggs!  I never considered the fact that these high-production animals don’t come with an “OFF” switch to temporarily shut them down.  It’s all or nothing, and it’s up to me to find creative ways to use the bounty.  Eggs or milk, anyone?

This is Jack.  No, we didn’t get another dog. 

Jack was my very first medical alert dog for my diabetes.   When I found Jack, he was an 18-month old Golden Retriever; a discarded kennel dog, who had been returned to the breeder by 3 different families due to “aggression” issues.  With the advice of a professional trainer, I was able to give Jack a much-needed purpose in life–taking care of someone.  He became a very sensitive and successful alert dog, with absolutely no aggression issues, and worked with me 24/7 for over a year.  He slept on a platform by the bed beside me, he went everywhere with me, and he made sure my blood sugars never dropped too low.  When my husband was TDY (military business trip), Jack was always there.  If I woke in the middle of the night with a low, Jack would run fetch me a juice box, stand up on the bed, and drop it beside me. 

Life happened, and through some unexpected circumstances, we wound up with Will, who became an almost self-taught alert dog.  I had to make a choice between the two.  Due to personality, I wound up choosing Will, and, after months of searching, I found the perfect home for Jack.  Jack went home with a family who had a 6 year old little boy, suffering from very unstable blood sugars.  The family was exhausted from lack of sleep, and stressed by the inability to figure it out.  Jack’s personality was perfect for this little boy and his family.  He quickly settled into his new role as an alert dog for them.  Because of the boy’s young age, Jack learned to go alert the parents if the child had a problem, which he learned to do well.  My understanding is, within a couple months, Jack would sleep by the child at night, and for the first time since the child’s diagnosis, the family finally had some peace and got some much-needed rest.  He became a celebrity around town, and always proudly represented service dogs everywhere. 

Jack is now around eight and half, and I just got word that he was diagnosed with lymphoma.  It seems to be spreading quickly, and they don’t expect he has much time left.  Even in this pic, taken just this morning, though, you can see he still has a wise, regal air about him. 

Jack, you were a good dog.  Not many dogs succeed at what you did, or enjoy it so much.  We hope that your final days will be peaceful, though we have no doubt that you are well-loved by many!

I am feeling a bit under the weather today, and sat down at the computer to blog about something.  Wasn’t sure what, so I started looking through my photos, and realized I had never told you about my awesome dog.  He’s not one for the spotlight, as you can see in the pic above!  You’ve seen pics here and there, it’s obvious he is a great family dog, but my dog has quite a story!  Pull up a chair, and let me share it with you….

During our pre-kid life, S and I decided to sign up to be puppy raisers with Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA–one of the largest and most reputable service dog schools in the world.  This was something I had done years before.  This school has a very selective breeding program for dogs with excellent physical and temperment traits.  When the pups are about 6 weeks old, they are weaned from their mothers and given some basic tests.  Some are culled, spayed or neutered, and adopted out due to not passing these tests.  Those that pass are sent to puppy raisers when they are about 8-10 weeks old.   For the next 12-14 months, the puppy raiser follows very strict guidelines in raising these puppies.  They teach the pup basic household commands such as sit, stay, come, etc.  They are responsible for house-breaking the pup, teaching it walk properly on a leash, and socializing the puppy.  Shortly after we signed up, we were given Will, an adorable 8-week old Golden retriever/Labrador cross. 

As required, we spent the next 14 months training him according to protocol.  Of course, the most fun part starts during the socializing.  Because the dog is being trained as a service dogs, many states offer the dogs entry rights similiar to fully-trained service dogs (though there are limits!).  As a result, Will was allowed to accompany us almost everywhere we went.  He had a special little jacket he wore that identified him as a Guide Dog in training.

At work with S, learning how to behave at an office job

He was granted access to air show we attended, and they even let us have some great and unique photo-ops!

We took him on all our vacations, into restaurants, grocery stores, theaters, you name it.  He quickly became a very well-rounded, well-socialized, well-behaved dog.  He was excellent representative of service dogs in general.  Hey, it’s what he was bred for.  Sadly, eventually our time was up and he had to be returned to the school for his formal “Guide Dog” training.  This is where all their training is fine-tuned, and they are taught in an actual leading harness, and they are taught how to guide a person who is somehow visually impaired.  This training lasts about 4-6 months on average. 

Shortly before Will left, I got pregnant.  After Will left I soon realized that the pregnancy was progressing quickly.  I became very nervous about caring for an infant, as a diabetic mommy.  My husband was gone a lot, and I was alone.  The thought of not waking up to care for a newborn one day terrified me.  I began researching options, and discovered a program where a dog could be trained to smell and alert to low blood sugars.  I was intrigued.  After further research, we located a trainer who was willing to help me learn more.  Using the knowledge I had gained through being a puppy-raiser, S and I began searching for a prospect to train.  Eventually, we found a Golden Retriever named Jack.  Long story, short, within a few short months, he was beginning to alert consistently, and, in addition to the other assistance training we gave him, he legally qualified as a Medical Alert Dog for Diabetes. 

Jack, my first alert dog.

Jack became my shadow, and took great pride in his job.  However, he had one fault….he was VERY sensitive.  If I had to correct or scold him for something, he had a tendency to pout for a while and take it very personally.  In the mean time, my first baby was born, and Jack helped me out on a number of occasions.  There were several nights I would awake very low and Jack would eagerly run grab me a juice box or something. I still had horses at the time, and he was excellent at “getting in my way” if my blood sugar got low while I was training a horse.  He would pester me until I tested and treated my low, and then he would leave me alone.  He absolutely excelled in this area.  He made a great service dog, but because I had a bolder personality, we just didn’t “mesh” personality wise as well as I would have liked.  Nonetheless, we kept at it for over a year, trying to improve that one area.

While all this was going on, we got word that Will was being held in training a bit longer than normal.  As it turned out, when he went through his final guiding test, they said he was an exceptional dog, and the trainers loved everything about him.  But, he had one major flaw–he was obsessed with playing with other dogs.  He worked beautifully until he saw a dog somewhere, then he would get so distracted he would forget to guide.  Because he excelled in every other way, the trainers decided to hold him back and continue to try to work through the issue.  After several months, though, a decision had to be made.  It was decided to “career change” him.  In the past, a career change dog was generally adopted out as a pet, and the puppy raiser would be given first choice to adopt it.  In recent years, though, it has been determined that a dog not suited for guiding work may be perfectly suited for another line of service work.  As a result, they began forming a new program where the school would give priority to other service dog organizations to take the dog.  I was a part of the last year where puppy-raisers were given priority.  So, they called one day and asked if we wanted him back.  Now, we loved Will–he was a spectacular dog, so we immediately agreed to take him, and it was decided we would just keep him as a pet.

Very soon after he returned, we realized Will was learning from Jack how to alert.  Will began showing great interest in performing the same tasks Jack did for me.  We decided he very likely had the potential and the desire since he had been bred for it, so we thought we would give him a couple months of down time as a pet to see what he did.  He began learning so quickly that Jack actually started to get jealous.  For example, if I had a low, Will would very proudly race to the cooler, grab me a juice box, and bring it to me–before Jack could get there.  This would send Jack into a pouting session.  One day, Jack rebelled and decided to break open the juice boxes and drink them himself.  I realized this wasn’t going to work.  Jack, however, was a great service dog, so we decided to put word out that he was available to a more sensitive person, with whom his personality would be a better match.  Then, if we could find someone, I would focus on re-training and fine-tuning Will for the new line of work.  After all, he was already half way there!

After several interviews and tests, we eventually found a family for whom Jack meshed perfectly.  They had a little boy who was having severe night time lows, and the parents were running short on sleep.  They needed another option.  We weren’t sure how Jack would handle the change (the dogs tend to bond very closely with “their” diabetic), but we agreed to give it a go.  The family went through an intensive training period to gradually get Jack acquainted with them as well as teach them the laws, rules, and methods of handling Jack.  Overtime, they proved to be a perfect match.  Jack very quickly learned to alert the parents that the boy was having a low, and potentially diverted several major crises.  And, the parents were finally able to get some sleep at night.  A very happy ending for all. 

Once my attention was focused on Will, thanks to his earlier training, he caught on with no problem.  Our personalities were perfect for each other.  With Jack out of the house, Will began alerting consistently, and responding as needed.  He would pester me even if I was actually riding a horse and developed a low blood sugar, always getting in the way until I treated my sugar.  Because I didn’t require his eyes for the job, his dog-distraction was an issue we were easily able to deal with.  He quickly qualified as a legal Medical Alert Dog, and life rolled on for several years.  When Will was about 6, he showed some signs of arthritis, I got out of horses, and we had 3 young children, making it difficult for me to keep up with a dog in public.  I had also grown better at stabilizing my blood sugars, so I didn’t need him in the same way.  We decided to retire him, and he once again became a pet.  He continued to alert for a while, but for some technical reasons, I quit encouraging it, so his alert (and thereby, his attachment to me) has gradually diminished over the last 2 years.

So, now, we have Will the retired service dog, and awesome pet.  I don’t believe in cloning animals, but if I did, he would be the one I cloned!  He is just the best family pet anyone could ask for.  Once in a while, his training shows and he will alert to a low for me, which is an added bonus and testament to the amazing ability of these dogs.  They thrive on having a job to do.  Now, though, we just let him live the good life, and we are witnessing his dark gold nose turn whiter as time goes by.  He always has the regal air about him though, and we hope for many more years with him.  We all dream of the day we can pay him back for his amazing service and loyalty by letting him run free on the farm like every dog should have a chance to do.

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