Georgia Connector Magazine Summer 2013 : Page 15

~ THE HEALING POWER OF DOGS ~ S TOR Y BY ME Scott Thompson www.GeorgiaConnector.com BOSS of The T REVOR J ORDAN , A T YPE 1 DIABETIC , was at his parent’s 50th anniversary party when his blood sugar spiked. He had no physical sensations or symptoms to alert him to this dangerous change in his body, but he did have Boss, his Diabetic Alert Dog, who jumped from his comfortable bed against the wall and picked up a blood sugar kit. Boss dropped the kit into Jordan’s lap and immediately began wagging his tail because he knew KH ZRXOG EH UHZDUGHG ZLWK SHWWLQJ %RVV QRWL¿ HV -RUGDQ RQ average six or seven times a day, and as many as twelve times a day when Jordan’s blood sugar levels are overly active. Diabetic Alert Dogs, or DADs, are a fairly new type of service dog in the United States. They were originally used in Australia and then Europe before a few trainers started working with them in the U.S. Boss comes from Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Photo by Kevin L. Hall Summer 2013 15

The BOSS of ME

Scott Thompson


TREVOR JORDAN, A TYPE 1 DIABETIC, was at his parent's 50th anniversary party when his blood sugar spiked. He had no physical sensations or symptoms to alert him to this dangerous change in his body, but he did have Boss, his Diabetic Alert Dog, who jumped from his comfortable bed against the wall and picked up a blood sugar kit. Boss dropped the kit into Jordan's lap and immediately began wagging his tail because he knew he would be rewarded with petting. Boss notifies Jordan on average six or seven times a day, and as many as twelve times a day when Jordan's blood sugar levels are overly active.

Diabetic Alert Dogs, or DADs, are a fairly new type of service dog in the United States. They were originally used in Australia and then Europe before a few trainers started working with them in the U.S. Boss comes from Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. Wildrose is owned by Mike Stewart who is famous for breeding and training some of the best hunting dogs in the world, but has recently become a breeder and trainer of DADs too.

Dogs can be trained to alert for diabetes, epilepsy, and for sight and hearing assistance, and there are excellent local groups that provide service dogs like Canine Assistants of Milton.

Canine Assistants, a 501(c)3 organization, was founded in 1991 by Jennifer Arnold who spent years in a wheelchair as a child. A service dog could have helped her. Service dogs at that time had a several year wait list, so she and her father decided to start their own organization. In 1991, she started Canine Assistants to train service dogs and seizure response dogs for those in need.

Service dogs are trained to help those with physical needs by turning lights on and off, opening doors, picking up dropped items, pulling wheelchairs, or even just to provide stability when walking through one's home or out in public.

Seizure response dogs assist owners after a seizure has occurred, several ways, including alerting someone else that a seizure has occurred, by retrieving a phone, or activating a medical alert button. Beyond this, the most important thing the dog does after a seizure is to lie with the victim and provide comfort. The dogs are not trained to alert the owner that a seizure is coming because, unlike diabetes, scientist have not yet discovered how dogs detect seizures, so they can't be trained specifically to alert before one occurs.

Dr. Melissa J. Loree, D.V.M., the director of education at Canine Assistants says, "Many dogs, after bonding to their handler, will learn to react in advance, but we can't tell which ones will do this ahead of time."

There are a variety of dogs used as service animals including Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Golden and Lab mixes, German Shepherds, Standard Poodles, and Poodle mixes. Some breeds are better suited for specific jobs depending on their sense of smell, size, strength, or energy level. Jordan's Diabetic Alert Dog is an English Labrador, similar to the common American Lab, but smaller, and was chosen for his keen sense of smell.

An Athens' group uses University of Georgia student volunteers as puppy raisers. Students are selected during a two month process that starts with an online application, meetings, and a home interview.

Deana Izzo, field representative for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, states, "Students are different from older adults. We have expectations that must be understood before we give them a dog, like 'no dogs in bars.'" The students that are selected are qualified and dedicated when they take a puppy home and keep it for 16 to 18 months. After this time, it can be difficult for them to say goodbye to the animal. "We tailor the turnover to the individual puppy raiser. Some need to cry, and that's okay, while others need a more abrupt pass over. After, all say it was a very positive experience. They understand the good they've done."

Other dogs provide therapy and don't require training like service dogs, and are simply tested for temperament and obedience. One group that provides therapy dogs is Happy Tails Pet Therapy. Three-hundred volunteer members provide animal therapy to 100 facilities that include senior homes, children's hospitals, shelters, and special needs programs in schools. The animals visit patients and provide general comfort but can also assist in physical therapy by providing another way for patients to reach physical goals. The patient can strengthen their arm by throwing a ball for a dog to fetch, instead of lifting weights.

There's also an additional benefit for others who may not be the intended recipient of the dog's attention.

Linda Bolterstein, president of Happy Tails says, "The animals are a distraction for the staff and families from day to day routines. After a visit the staff relates to patients more personally." One mother stated that her teenage son was dealing with ADHD and a therapy dog was suggested. An English Bulldog visited the teenager and aided the boy as intended and also helped the mother. "The dog would lean against me to offer comfort," she says. "It worked. I would start petting her and as she looked at me with those bulldog eyes, I could feel the stress easing."

Owners of service dogs are also known as handlers. Dogs are matched to handlers based on personality and need and typically are trained before they are placed with someone. Some puppies, like scent detection dogs, begin training early, but other dogs can be a few months old or even grown before they begin their training. Depending on the service they are performing the training can last anywhere from a few months to 18 months, and training is done in stages. In the first stage, the dog will go through obedience training, or sometimes simply socialization. Many see dogs in the mall with trainers, and this is the second stage, public access training. Finally, the animal is trained for service. There's also training for the recipient of a dog.

The cost for a service dog can range anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 with fees that include training for the animal, training for the recipient, and after-care costs. This would keep most people from being able to afford a service dog, but groups like Canine Assistants provide their dogs at no cost. "Many have already had to pay substantial medical bills," Dr. Loree explains, "and we don't want the cost to limit their ability to get a dog."

When Trevor Jordan pursued a Diabetic Alert Dog, a group was formed to help him raise the $10,000 needed. With the support of his church, family, and friends he quickly raised the money. In fact, there was money left over so he met with his fundraisers, and they formed a non-profit group, Mission: D.A.D. with the goal of raising awareness of diabetes and helping families get their own diabetic alert dogs. Wildrose Kennels partnered with them and formed a non-profit that helped reduce the cost of the dogs.

"It was our way to pay it forward," Jordan says. He now speaks to organizations about diabetes and DADs.

Jordan's dog, Boss, uses his sense of smell to detect blood sugar levels. "He reacts to smell. It's not his job to keep me from eating the wrong foods," Jordan says. "He doesn't attack if I reach for a donut."

Boss started learning to smell blood sugar levels from his second day of life. Boss was provided with cotton balls with Jordan's scent and then Boss was rewarded by suckling from his mother. Like other service dogs, Boss follows the rule of intelligent disobedience which gives the dog the right to disobey orders that may put their handler in danger. If a seeing eye dog is ordered to cross the street but a car is coming, the dog can refuse to keep the owner safe. Service dogs should always do the job they were trained for first, but their training can be altered if the handler or others don't follow the guidelines for the animal. If a service dog is rewarded with petting, the handler and others need to only pet the dog after a response or the act it was trained for. If a dog is rewarded at other times, it can undo the training.

But just because petting is limited that doesn't mean the handlers don't become attached emotionally to their dogs. Service dogs are constantly near their handlers, and unlike people, they never complain about their jobs. Family members appreciate the dogs because it makes their lives easier too.

Over the years, Trevor Jordan's Type 1 diabetes has caused his blood sugar to drop while he was sleeping. Each time his wife, Rebecca, woke up and was able to save him, but she always worried that one night she wouldn't wake up and he would die. Boss is always working and alerts Jordan day or night of low or high blood sugar levels.

"There isn't a night that goes by that I don't thank God for Boss and for the community that helped us to bring him home," says Rebecca. "I spent years sleeping with my hand on my husband's arm in hopes that I would wake up if I were needed. To be honest I didn't really sleep. I dozed. Now, I sleep with Boss' chin resting on my feet, assured that together he and I have got our man covered."

Read the full article at http://digipubcloud.com/article/The+BOSS+of+ME/1416996/161505/article.html.

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