We’ve had Scout at home with us now for nearly two weeks, and it’s definitely been an experience. Not that we didn’t already know this, but diabetes alert dogs are not animatronic creatures you can turn on and off as you need them. They’re sensitive, intuitive, and because they lack the ability to actually speak, you find yourself trying to read them – and often failing (unless maybe you’re a doggie behavior expert, which I am not). Like kids, they may test their limits with you, and each person in your home individually.
|Cuddling at SeaWorld|
Adding extreme complication, we spent five of the seven days of our vacation (which began the day we picked up Scout in Southern CA) at theme parks, and the 7th day was spent in the Emergency Room when Sarah developed a tummy bug along with high ketones. Scout seemed concerned, and his behavior was telling me something was wrong, but her bg was fine and I couldn’t do much about the ketones except push carbs, insulin and fluid and wait for them to subside. On the way home, ketones finally banished, Scout was able to catch a couple of high blood sugars, just as they crossed the alerting threshold (Yay Scout!).
|Scout is worried, Sarah is miserable|
For the next three days we had Christmas insanity. Scout spent extra time in a crate to keep him distanced from most of the craziness. Sarah was sick with fever and high ketones again on Christmas eve morning/afternoon, and, as she was absolutely bound and determined to sing for a church Christmas eve candlelight service for which she had committed, she slept, drank, ate when she didn’t want to, and took lots of Tylenol in an effort to get back on her feet in time for her song. Not even able to get out of bed in the morning (literally, the ketones made her whole body hurt so bad she couldn’t even walk), she finally rose in the mid afternoon, and made it to the church at 6:30 to practice her song (as she’d missed the practice time that morning, see above re miserable child with fever and high ketones).
I couldn’t believe she pulled it out, especially as sick as she’d been. She’d lost 4-5 pounds over the previous three days. She was tired and not able to take breaths as deep as she usually would for such a challenging piece. But she did it! If you’d like to see her performance, click below:
Yesterday we finally got back to something that looks like normal. Scout had been home without any significant activity or distractions for two full days – taking nice long walks with my husband to keep him active. Sarah went to a friend’s house for a few hours in the afternoon. In the evening, as we were preparing to take Sarah to her theater rehearsal, Scout alerted. When I say “Scout alerted”, I don’t know what you’re picturing, so let me paint a visual.
Scout spends most of his time in the house on a raised mat which we call his “place”. His job is to stay there, except when we take him off “place” for an activity such as eating, drinking, going potty, or some structured play time. Scout was lying down quietly on “place” when I noticed him begin to move. He stood up and lifted his nose high in the air, nostrils flaring. He sniffed the air, and then bounded across the room to the stool where we had placed the bringsel (a sort of stuffed log that is his cue that we need to check Sarah’s bg).
We checked her bg, and she was 217. We asked Scout "what is it?" - and he waves to tell us she's high. Scout was rewarded with lots of love, and we took him through the house to have him alert, and be rewarded by, everyone in the family. This is important because we want him to know he can alert to everyone, not just whoever he is most familiar with.
|Scout is waving at Sarah after alerting. She's high.|
Once the reward time was over, we placed him back on “place”, put the bringsel back on the stool, and went about our business. Scout alerted again about 30 minutes later, and her bg was 230. Scout is learning that he can’t constantly alert – which is a good thing because while we can fix low blood sugar rather quickly, there is no quick fix for high blood sugar. Sarah had eaten a Tamale for dinner a few minutes before, so her bg was up to 230 – not a surprise. We left Scout at home, in the crate, while I took Sarah to rehearsal. When we returned and put Scout back on “place” he alerted again almost immediately. Sarah’s bg was now 268.
As I’ve probably mentioned before, we are far from dog experts. I don’t have the intuitive understanding of the canine mind that Scout’s trainers do. I rely on a ridiculous amount of communication and questions to try to get an idea if we’re doing things right or wrong. We definitely have a lot to learn, and I am doing my best to document what we learn in an effort to make it easier to remember all these little tips and advice and to hopefully catalog what I learn to help others in the future. Bringing home a DAD isn’t all fun and games. It is fun and very cool, but it’s probably more work and head scratching than most people expect.
That said, it’s also very cool to have a dog that lives and breathes to catch those off blood sugars and receive his praise and reward. While he will never take the place of regular blood sugar checks (and we don’t expect him to), he will help to catch highs and lows that we didn’t expect, before they become a serious issue.
We have Scout home with us for one more week before he goes back to Southern CA to finish his training. Our hope is that he will be ready to come live with us full time in mid March.