Sunday, February 28, 2010

Diabetes Expo

Yesterday I attended the Diabetes Expo at the South Towne EXPO Center in Sandy, UT. I would love to tell you about all the amazing things that I saw……….but to be honest we only made it down 2 isles. Then we spent the next 4.5 hours talking about Diabetic Alert Dogs. I have to tell you I think I may have found my true calling in life!

Sometimes living with diabetes makes you feel rather alone. You really can’t eat all of what other people without diabetes eat. You really do have to pay a lot of attention to health matters. You really do need to have a plan for just about everything. No matter how bad you want it…….you really are a little different from everyone else.

This quote is from the Deseret News in Salt Lake City and is rather sobering: “Some 500 Utahans die from diabetes each year, and 124,000 residents have the condition, according to the Utah Department of Health Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. Another 45,000 are believed to be diabetic but don't know it yet.” (,5143,705287451,00.html) According to the US Census Bureau the population of UT is about 2.8 million. Math is not my strong suit but that means about 6 percent of the population has this disease and what is scary… is it is growing. Why can’t a cure be found????

Anyone diagnosed with this disease has a story. My story is that while I was formally diagnosed as a type 2 in 2000….my body has never responded as a type 2. I did the diet thing, I watched what I ate, I exercised, I was put on medications that didn’t help and I saw the dietician. I listened and took what I could…but what I learned is that diabetes affects each person a little different and there is no end all solution. I learned if you are outside the typical bell curve with a disease it is hard to get answers! I gave up on the medical profession and decided to “do it by myself”. I read everything I could get my hands on and made many changes…but it wasn’t enough. Last September I started on insulin and recently went on an Insulin Pump. Diabetes is a disease that is always and ever changing. Each day I reevaluate how I am doing and whether changes need to be made. Slight changes can have big consequences. A friend was telling me her 3 year old granddaughter has diabetes…and she announce to everyone the other night…that she “didn’t want to have diabetes no more….to take it away”. How do you respond to that???? I don’t want it no more either! However, better me than one so small!

Honestly, I hope and pray for a cure. However, the cynical side of me says it won’t happen. Too much money is being made off of diabetics. I don’t mind paying my own way but when you have to choose between basic necessities and medical care isn’t enough ENOUGH? When your health insurance exec makes 24 million a year and the same company refuses claims based on “you exceeded your $2500 durable medical goods”. Good grief!

I have a disease that makes me mad…I have had medical professionals that made me mad…I have an insurance company that makes me mad…that is a lot of mad. For me, I can either remain mad or I can do something about it…but what????

I have to find a purpose, a reason to keep fighting this….yesterday I think I might have found it…at the Diabetes Expo. I found it in hearing the countless stories of others who wanted to know more about Diabetic Alert Dogs or who just simply wanted to pet my dog! I am not sure how it is going to look exactly…but I know my love and knowledge of dogs, my love and knowledge of people, and my HATE for this disease is somehow going to come together to be used for good….to help others.

While I may not have seen much of the Expo…………I sure found a lot of myself!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Alert Stories

Everyone wants to hear great alert stories….I have to be honest I wish no one ever had to have any need for an alerting dog! For myself, I can handle the high blood glucose readings but I really hate the low blood glucose readings. The lows really leave me feeling bad…but I have another tool in my arsenal to assist in the battle against lows. Their names are Bravo and Radar!

Bravo started alerting naturally, meaning I did not teach a trained response. After I figured out what he was telling me I then started rewarding it and shaping the behavior. A low blood sugar is NOT the time to start dog training!

Bravo’s first alert that I noticed started this way. I was sitting in my recliner watching TV and surfing the net when Bravo came over and laid his head on my lap. I petted him and he backed up and did what I call his ‘pee dance’. I got up to let him outside. When I started to the door to let him out he stood there and looked at me. I went back and sat down. He repeated this behavior. When I stood up he jumped up and wrapped me in a ‘Chessie hug’. At this point I realized that I didn’t feel so good…sure enough I was low.

There have been so many alerts since that first one that I can’t recall all of them, but here are a few more. I was running agility in Idaho. The day had worn on and on. It was getting late but a group of us were going to go to dinner…so I kept snacking to maintain my glucose levels. When Bravo and I got into the ring it was getting dark. We completed half of the course and had just come off the table. Bravo was suppose to be on my right and he indicated that was where he was going when he suddenly comes to my left gets in front of me and stops. I get him back on course and he repeats the come to my left, get in front and stop. I tried a 3rd time again the same reaction…suddenly I realize I don’t feel so good. I thank the judge, take him by the collar, and leave the ring. As soon as we got outside the ring gate he alerted again more strongly. I checked, treated, and was good to go.

Friends had invited me to go hunting. I am not sure who likes bird hunting more…me or Bravo. We found a covey of quail and decided to go after them. It was just going to be a quick hunt so I left my meter and glucose tablets in the truck. I mean what could happen….we are just going across the ditch. Off we go, B is quartering in front of me having a wonderful time. He is even grinning as he runs. Birds come up and we shoot. The covey splits up with a few birds going this way and few going that way, but none of them go very far. So we decide to go after them. This little across the ditch hunt now turns into an hour hike on the hillside. We are heading back to the truck. My buddies are already at the truck. All I have to do is cross the ditch…when suddenly Bravo stops quartering comes back and stops in front of me. I tell him to ‘hunt em up’. He doesn’t move. I repeat…he doesn’t move. One of my buddies hollers at me “KC…I don’t know but that dog sure looks like he is telling you something! I ain’t never seen an alert but that is what it looks like to me. Are you okay?” Sure enough I was low.

It is right before Christmas. I am at a local book store picking up some last minute presents. B is laying at my feet while I browse a book. Suddenly he sits up comes in front of me and stares at me. I place book back on shelf, reach in pocket to grab glucose tabs, walk over and sit down. That is the last thing I remember for a bit. The next was told to me by a lady who helped. She said that my dog was sitting with his head in my lap. Occasionally he would pay at me or whine. She said I just stared off into space. She came up and asks me some questions. Said I made no sense whatsoever. She is also diabetic and asks me if she could get me a coke. I guess I told her no I needed insulin. She then knew something was very wrong! So she ask if she could check my blood sugar. I was down to 15! She then ask if she could give me some insulin….said I was very agreeable to that and she used my glucagon pen to administer fast acting glucose. My brain returned……when I checked with my meter I was up to 27! As I continued to get my wits about me…she commented that the reason she checked on me was that my dog was so persistent in getting to me.
Driving down the road with a friend…suddenly B is whining and resting his head on her shoulder. He is being very persistent! She is also diabetic so I ask her to check her sugar. She is down to 42!

I am judging a Hunt Test. Bravo is in a kennel in the back of my truck about 50 yards from the line. A lady comes to me and lets me know that my dog is barking and digging at his kennel door “like he needs to go air (bathroom)”. We get a break so I go let him out. He jumps out of truck runs to me and wraps me in a hug…so I check my sugar. Meter says I am at 100 (fine). I put him back in his kennel…but he is still acting up. One more dog runs the test when suddenly I don’t feel good. I recheck and am now down in the 50’s. If someone wants to explain to me this alert I am all ears. He was 50 yards away from me in the truck, yet somehow he knew! Bravo never acts like that in his kennel…”Hey Owens…TRUST YOUR DOG!”

Just last night I sat down to watch the Olympics and was talking on the phone. When Bravo comes over drops his head in my lap and stares at me….sure enough I was in the 70’s. Not horrible but still enough I am going to treat.

Then there are the nighttime lows. You know you go to sleep you are fine and you wake up and you aren’t! Anyone who has had those nighttime drops if honest will tell you that it makes you afraid to go to sleep. You worry you might not wake up. It is scary stuff! Numerous times I have awoken to Bravo pawing and whining at me, only to check and find out that my numbers are dropping low. Sometimes I am really hard to wake up. I get over tired or over stressed and I can sleep through an earthquake. In the last few months there has been several times where I as I awake I can hear Bravo whining or barking but what woke me up was Radar digging at my head! As I said in a previous post Radar is still in training and he is an aggressive alerter...meaning he goes after it…but if it gets me up I am fine with it!

There are many more instances of them alerting me or others, but you get the idea. I wish they didn’t have to do this…I honestly don’t understand all of what they are doing…..BUT I AM VERY GLAD they do!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Considering A DAD?

Everywhere I go with my diabetic alert dog I am approached by people who wish to share with me their story of diabetes. It doesn’t matter whether it is church, a grocery store, a department store, the mechanics, the doctor’s office, or simply walking down the street I am sure to be approached by someone who wants to find out what this dog does for me and to share how diabetes has ravaged either their life or the life of someone they love. Diabetes is a nasty disease….and it doesn’t matter what type it is. So who better to be of assistance than the greatest friend to humankind…. a dog!

Always after listening to the story the conversation turns to the dog and how he does what he does. This is a very new area and there are many unknowns of the exact science behind all of it but the short version it is smell. Most people with diabetes can tell you when they go high they get a sweet fruity taste or smell about them and when you go low you get a metallic taste or smell…if us humans can detect it imagine how powerful it must be to the dogs. “A dog's sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have only 5 million. ( Where it starts getting trickier is how do we teach a dog to tell us what they smell…that is where training comes in. That of course brings humans and all their many perspectives with it.

The next question that arises is “Where can I get one of these dogs?” The human factor quickly comes in now. There are many people who profess to know what they are doing and are willing to sell you a dog…most of these dogs are going for around $7000 to $10000. However horror stories abound about people who paid that kind of money only to get a dog that had little or no training and was defiantly not suited to being a service dog. Talk about broken hearts and broken dreams…..not to mention unscrupulous ethics!

I want to believe the best of people….I want to believe that no one would stoop that low for the almighty dollar but as with anything in life, there are some who just aren’t good people! I understand no one is perfect but this practice makes me mad! Many times it is the desperate parent(s) of a young child who wants ANYTHING to work to make the child’s and their lives easier that allows these unscrupulous practices to keep happening. Hey I cant blame anyone for hoping, but hope needs to be tempered with caution and common sense. Ask a lot of questions…….if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. Just so you know….this is not a fast process! No matter whether you buy a started or a finished dog or if you work with a trainer to train your own puppy it is not going to be a quick processs. It could be up to 2 years or more!!!!!!!

I am fortunate to have entered into this arena with a natural alerting dog. I believe that he started alerting because of the many venues of competition I have played in the dog sport world. He is a very well trained dog and he knows me as well as I know him. He knew something was wrong with me and he chained the sense of smell to my behavior and then he “told” me through his training. As with most things in my life I tend to do things backwards…the event happens then I want to know why and how it happened…so I started searching out the answers. Dogs are fairly simple creatures but they like us don’t do much with out a reason…we just need to understand the communication! Then we need to figure out how to teach other dogs that same communication. Teaching my other dog how to alert solidified some of my own personal thoughts about why my first dog started alerting naturally from a dog training perspective. I have been around working animals my whole life and yet everyday I learn something new! No 2 situations are exactly alike.

So why am I writing all of this??? I want you to hope, dream, and work to find yourself a dog that will work for you and with you to make your or your loved ones life easier. I want you to know what an amazing thing it is when a dog saves your life or helps aid you from feeling crummy. Many of these dogs alert faster than a BG monitor can pick up…often 15 to 30 minutes ahead of what the meter says. I want you to have the joy of having a working partner but I also want you to know that it isn’t easy and it isn’t without a price. You still have to be RESPONSIBLE about your own care. You will still have to do all the things that come along with the diagnosis of diabetes. A diabetic alert dog is not the end all he is simply another tool in the arsonal against diabetes. He is also a friend, a companion in some rough times but YOU have to take care of all of his needs as well! You also have to be willing to work at the relationship he is not a soldier to be ordered around. He will be doing important work and needs to honored for doing so! You also have to ask questions find people you can work with…build a team just like you have to with your diabetes care. Ask lots of questions, learn all you can, and be patient! Good things come to those who will show patience!

What is a Diabetic Alert Dog?

I received numerous inquiries on exactly what is a Diabetic Alert Dog (D.A.D.)…so I am going to try to explain it.
A D.A.D. in simple terms is a dog that alerts to blood glucose levels. In a normal person the average blood glucose reading falls between 80 to 120 at any given time. In a diabetic, it can be a lot higher or lower than that. Highs and lows in a diabetic are very problematic. Most diabetics that I know will tell you they prefer to be a tad on the high side to being low. Any extreme reading leaves you feeling like you got ran over by a Mack Truck! Low blood sugar is called a hypoglycemia. Here is the symptoms of hypoglycemia: “The condition called hypoglycemia is literally translated as low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar (or blood glucose) concentrations fall below a level necessary to properly support the body's need for energy and stability throughout its cells” ( Symptoms of a hypoglycemic episode are described below from
Mild hypoglycemia
Symptoms of mild low blood sugar usually occur when blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL and may include:
• Nausea.
• Extreme hunger.
• Feeling nervous or jittery.
• Cold, clammy, wet skin and/or excessive sweating not caused by exercise.
• A rapid heartbeat (tachycardia).
• Numbness or tingling of the fingertips or lips.
• Trembling.
Moderate hypoglycemia
If blood sugar continues to fall, the nervous system will be affected. Symptoms usually occur when the blood sugar falls below 55 mg/dL and may include:
• Mood changes, such as irritability, anxiety, restlessness, or anger.
• Confusion, difficulty in thinking, or inability to concentrate.
• Blurred vision, dizziness, or headache.
• Weakness, lack of energy.
• Poor coordination.
• Difficulty walking or talking, such as staggering or slurred speech.
• Fatigue, lethargy, or drowsiness.
Severe hypoglycemia
The symptoms of severe low blood sugar develop when blood sugar falls below 35 mg/dL to 40 mg/dL and may include:
• Seizures or convulsions.
• Loss of consciousness, coma.
• Low body temperature (hypothermia).
Prolonged severe hypoglycemia can cause irreversible brain damage and heart problems, especially in people who already have coronary artery disease. If emergency medical treatment is not provided, severe hypoglycemia can be fatal.
As a diabetic who for some reason yet to be determined has had many hypos…………..they stink!!!!!! I have always been energetic, active, and on top of things. The last 10 months I have been stupid!!!!!! I can’t remember stuff and it feels like I am living in a fog, my quality of life went to the tank…but back to the dogs!!!
A DAD alerts to a low blood glucose and some even alert to high blood glucose. The science behind it all has not yet caught up with the action of what the dogs are doing. After they detect the scent of the low or high they then cue the handler or other designated person as to which it is. The possibility of alert cues is endless. Different dogs do different things.
My D.A.D.’s are Bravo and Radar. Bravo is a 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever and Radar is a 1 year old Parson Russell Terrier. Bravo’s low alert signal varies slightly as to what I am doing at the time of the hypo. If I am sleeping he will gently paw at me then whine, bark, or lick to get me awake. (I AM A VERY SOUND SLEEPER!) If I am sitting he will place his head on my knee and stare (the kind of stare that goes clear to your soul). If I am moving he will literally stop me and refuse any other command to go forward or do anything else. Bravo came up with these alert cues all on his own…I just had to figure out what he was telling me. It is my belief that he chooses these cues as a result of his training as that is how we communicate with other things. More about Bravo’s alerts later. Radar was a whole different story. I began to notice him mimicking Bravo when I was low…so I decided to make a conscious effort to train him on alerting. Radar is a very aggressive alerter…I don’t know if he will ever make it as a full service dog but he is sure handier at night! Radar is young and is still learning but his alert is to paw or dig at me when the pawing doesn’t work. When I am sitting in the chair he will jump up on the back on my chair and start patting my head with his right paw. If I don’t get the message it he pats at my ear and bumps me with his nose. When I am sleeping it seems he goes straight for my face…since I am a sound sleeper I can’t tell you what all he tries to get my attention but I can tell you what wakes me…Radar digs at my head.

Nighttime alerts are the most interesting to me and often the hardest to teach. Anyone who knows me well will vouch for the fact that you do not touch me to wake me up in the middle of the night or you are liable to get hit. I tend to be reactive about that…hmm maybe that is why I am not married! Anyhow the fact that both of the dogs are willing to risk my wrath speaks volumes.

In later posts I will share with you some of the situations that my dogs have alerted in. So keep on coming back!