Four-legged friend helping diabetics
This article reprinted from Argus-Courier.
By Yovanna Bieberich
Sunday, May 15, 2008
We all know about the use of dogs to help the blind, but dogs that
sniff out sugar level problems in diabetics was unheard of until
just a few years ago.
"This fellow who worked with Guide Dogs for the Blind had
a dog with him on a trip when he started to go extremely hypoglycemic,"
said Meri Schumacher, a Petaluma mother of three boys with juvenile
diabetes. "The dog alerted him and wouldn't leave him
alone until he got up and used his medicine. That's when he
realized that dogs somehow could detect when something was wrong
in a diabetic person. He later began to train dogs to detect sugar
lows using a swatch of sweat from when he was low. He would hide
it and train the dogs to find it by scent and then alert him. Once
the dogs get that down, it's easy to apply it to a person."
This canine breakthrough for diabetics is a godsend for diabetics
and parents of young diabetics such as Schumacher, who is in a constant
state of concern about the well-being of her sons, Jack, 10, Ben,
6, and Luke, 4.
"I applied for the Dogs 4 Diabetics program and quickly
heard back from them since our need was great," she said.
"There's a long waiting list for the program, but we
were put to the top because we had three young children with diabetes."
The Dogs 4 Diabetes program involves going to the non-profit organization's
Concord center once a week and one Sunday a month for at least a
year to train with the dogs. During this time, the organization
tries to find the right dog for the right individual. "We
knew that with three kids with diabetes we would need a very special
dog," she said. "And once you get a dog, you don't
necessarily get to keep them. There's a trail period to see
how things work out. Once you graduate from the program, then the
dog is officially yours."
Just two months ago, the Schumacher family was paired up with Lawton,
a yellow Labrador that Schumacher says loves his job. "He's
the perfect dog and is obsessed with food, so this is a great game
for him," said Schumacher, who rewards Lawton with treats
for accurately detecting sugar level problems.
"During the first week we had him, he was 100 percent correct
on all 18 alerts he gave us," she said. "If one of their
blood sugar levels go below 70, Lawton will come to me. He takes
two steps back, sits down and grabs his bringsle, a black strap
that hangs from his neck that he puts in his mouth. That's
his signal that something is wrong and that I should go and check
Schumacher said that Lawton can also sense when the sugar levels
are about to change. "He'll alert me when one of their
levels is 200, but then I'll check 10 minutes later and it
will have dropped to 100. It's absolutely amazing."
Lawton's accuracy and ability to detect when blood sugar
levels may drop means that Schumacher is better able to help keep
their diabetes under control.
"Some people don't understand how different Type 1
juvenile diabetes is from Type 2 diabetes in adults. Type 1 is an
autoimmune disease where the body attacks the pancreas. Eating the
right foods and exercise won't make it better. It won't
get better until there's a cure, so in the meantime they have
to have insulin every time they eat. They're all on insulin
pumps. Low blood sugar will cause them to pass out, go into a coma
or have seizures. It means a trip to the emergency room. High blood
sugar levels will cause them discomfort, vision problems and a variety
of future health problems. So controlling this involves keeping
their sugar levels within a tight range because too high and too
low are both bad."
With three young boys to monitor, Lawton has been a life-saver
for the Schumacher family. "He's a super hero,"
said Schumacher. "He's the greatest thing. He even wakes
me up at night when the kids levels are low. I used to not be able
to sleep at night because I was so worried about them. Now I can
go to sleep and Lawton will come lick my face to wake me up if something
changes. He really is our miracle."
With thousands of people on the waiting list, Schumacher said
the organization is always in need of volunteers and foster families
for the dogs. "They can't grow fast enough," she
said. "I can't say enough how this dog has become our
lifesaver. I'm speechless. He's my best friend."
To learn more about the Dogs 4 Diabetics program, to volunteer
or donate, visit www.dogs4diabetics.com.
Contact Yovanna Bieberich at Yovanna.email@example.com.
This article reprinted from argus-courier.com.