Are you “hypoglycemia unaware" (blood sugar drops don’t register)? Then a service dog could save your life.
Ordinarily, people with diabetes know when their blood sugar is plummeting: Symptoms like nausea, hunger, clammy skin, drowsiness and blurry vision are cues to correct it. But for folks who are “hypoglycemia unaware,” blood sugar drops just don’t register. “I started having episodes in 1999, about 10 years after my diagnosis,” recalls Linda Mosier, a 67-year-old nurse from St. Louis Park, MN. “I would wake up surrounded by paramedics.”
One of the most frightening episodes occurred while Linda was shopping. “I suddenly forgot where I was and why I was there,” she says. “I don’t know what happened after that, but the manager called 911. When I woke up I was in a wheelchair, and my blood sugar was 22.”
“I’d never heard of diabetes service dogs”
When Linda told a friend she would no longer be able to drive, “she suggested I get a service dog,” Linda says. “I had never heard about dogs for people with diabetes. Then my husband, Doug, found Can Do Canines of Minnesota, an organization that gives diabetes service dogs free to those who qualify.”
In April 2004, Linda applied and was accepted to the program. She was asked to breathe into a piece of gauze when her levels got low, freeze it in a container and take it to the center. Pieces of gauze were sewn into dog toys so the Can Do puppies could be trained to associate the scent with the need to alert. She and Doug took weeks of dog-training sessions so counselors could match the right dog with their family.
“Ivan saved me 800 times”
That August, Linda received a collie named Ivan. “Ivan would alert me that my blood sugar was low by nudging me with his muzzle,” Linda explains. “He probably saved my life 800 times, which is why we called him Ivan the Terrific.” But after five years of service, Ivan died of cancer. “I still grieve for him,” says Linda, choking back her tears. “We developed such a strong, loving bond.”
Although Linda was still mourning for Ivan, she knew she couldn’t survive without a dog. She applied to Can Do Canines for a successor, and five months later came Hamel, a sandy Lab. “Within two days, he alerted me to a blood sugar drop.”
“Hamel wouldn’t take no for an answer”
About a month after Hamel’s arrival, Linda and Doug went on a camping trip in their mobile home. “In the middle of the night, Hamel jumped up on my side of the bed and started licking my face,” Linda recalls. “I woke up, but I was incoherent, so Hamel quickly ran over to get Doug.” At first Doug gave him the “off” command, because Hamel is not allowed on the bed. But he kept right on jumping. “That’s when Doug realized something was wrong and quickly got my glucose pills. If it weren’t for Hamel, I don’t know what would have happened because my blood sugar was just 36.”
“A gift from God”
Today Linda and Doug, who are both retired, take Hamel on a daily four-mile hike. Hamel never leaves the house without his red-and-white backpack with emergency food and a packet of pills tucked in his side pocket. Linda is grateful for her two guardian angels and says she can’t imagine life without them. “I haven’t had an episode in five and a half years,” she says proudly. “These dogs are a gift from God.”
Could a diabetes service dog help you?
To qualify, you…
• Must be diagnosed as an insulin-dependent diabetes patient, which typically means you have type 1 diabetes, but might also include type 2. Some organizations require you to be healthy and active enough to walk your dog.
• Need a letter from your physician saying you require additional support for managing your diabetes, and a summary of your blood glucose levels.
• Must live in a dog-safe, dog-friendly environment. Officials will make home visits to make sure this is the case and that everyone in your family is able to handle a dog. Some organizations require that the patient be at least 12 years old.
To find a diabetes assistance dog in your state, visit Assistance Dogs International online at assistancedogsinternational.org.