Friday, March 15, 2013

Early observations on life with a diabetes alert dog

Sarah’s diabetes alert service dog, Scout, moved in with us February 24th, 2013 - so just about three weeks ago. Scout is exactly what we’d hoped for in a service dog for Sarah. He’s very smart and does a great job alerting her to high and low blood sugars. But he’s also goofy and sweet and sometimes just downright ridiculous (thank goodness he saves the ridiculous moments for home!). We wanted a dog that Sarah could enjoy being with, and who would enjoy being with her. Scout fulfills all those requirements. He’s fun and cuddly and silly, and all business when he needs to be.

Sarah and I joked after a few days of taking Scout on all of our outings about making her a t-shirt that answers all the questions people constantly ask. It would say:

· No, he’s not in training – he’s working

· Please don’t pet him, he’s working

· He’s 20 months old

· Yes, he’s well trained, thank you for noticing

· No, I’m not training him for someone else – he’s my dog

· Yes, I have type 1 diabetes and my dog is no reflection on my “control”

· Yes, I DO have an insulin pump – but it doesn’t “control” my diabetes or monitor my blood sugar.

We’ve had previous experience with service dogs while volunteering with guide dogs for the blind, and also while training with Scout and other dogs, so we knew most of what to expect. I would venture to say that the following suggestions are probably true for most service dog teams:

We expected to be asked a lot of questions by the public, and of course that has been our experience. While we don’t always mind stopping to answer, and we love talking about how amazing Scout is, there are also times where we are just trying to finish our grocery shopping, take a walk, or otherwise finish our day. We have a schedule, especially with all of Sarah’s activities. Please don’t think it’s rude if we give you a short answer and excuse ourselves. We are not out and about for your entertainment; rather, Scout is with Sarah to keep her safe while she goes about her day. (And in reality I am usually happy to talk, unless I have ice cream dripping out of my grocery bag)

Please don’t ask to pet the dog. I know he’s really cute, and it is super tempting and you just want to cuddle/snuggle him. But he actually has a job to do, and it’s not fair to Sarah to have to constantly tell people “no”. And no, we aren’t being rude when we tell you that you can’t pet him. Petting affects his ability to focus on Sarah, and that is his job. Think about your workday. While you’re sitting in your car, at your computer, or otherwise working; how distracting would it be if some random person you didn’t know came up and just started putting their hands all over you? Would you be able to keep at your task without missing a beat, or would that possibly divert your attention away from your job? And on the heels of that request, drive by petting is definitely a huge no no. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Don’t ask personal questions about Sarah’s medical condition. Trust me; she spends a lot of time answering those already. Don’t assume that because she has a dog she can’t control her diabetes – she’s just controlling it differently than that person you know. If you’re a close enough friend to know, you already do and of course we don’t mind explaining further. If you’re a random stranger, leave it alone already because it really isn’t your business.

Don’t tell us how lucky we are to take our dog into restaurants, the theater, etc. Instead, consider how lucky YOU are that you have no reason to need a service dog. I would love nothing more than for Sarah to never again have to feel as horrid as she does in the midst of a low blood sugar. I never want her to have ketones again, as that was just so beyond awful I can’t even describe. Scout’s job is to help keep these at bay by alerting us early and before Sarah feels the symptoms. Yes, we are so fortunate to have his help, but Sarah is not “lucky” to deal with diabetes 24/7 for the rest of her life. Not by a long shot.

Please don’t think that poor Scout is overworked. You may not love your job, but I can assure you, Scout loves his. His job is to hang out with his people all day, every day. And most of the time that’s what he does. Instead of being at home alone like most pet dogs, he gets to be with his peoples! What more could any dog ask for? But beyond that, when he does his job and finds a high or low blood sugar, he gets a party, just for him. Wouldn’t it be cool if you got 2-3 parties every single day, with cake and presents? Well that’s what Scout gets. He gets parties with the best present in the whole world; a squeaky ball and lots of extra love and affection. And if you saw him during a party, you’d know that he is absolutely over the moon happy.

All that said, we LOVE having Scout with us. He’s young, and we’re inexperienced, so we’re all learning together to help him do his job. But he’s amazing in so many ways. Scout is very smart, and even though he can’t talk, he is an excellent communicator. He knows just when Sarah needs a hug, and will just press his whole head against her for a bit. He’s still working on not being tempted by food and other things dropped on the ground, but it’s fun to watch him see that potato chip and remember that he’s supposed to ignore it. He turned to look at Sarah and his eyes say “I saw that and I knew you didn’t want me to eat it, so I didn’t. I’m a good boy. Can I have a cookie?”

And when he’s detected a low or high blood sugar, he makes sure we know it. And sometimes when she’s just right on the verge, he just stares at her for awhile, trying to decide, or waiting until the right moment. He also knows to keep his alerts much mellower when we’re not home, and at home he gets a big crazy party.

So far he’s been to:

Live theater at the Sacramento Convention Center

IMAX to see Oz, The Great and Powerful

Sarah’s theater classes

Sarah’s voice lessons

A bowling alley

Several restaurants


Mom’s work

The grocery store (many times)

The mall

Fairytale town (kids park)

Old Sacramento

Probably lots more places I’m blanking out on

And on each outing he’s made us proud. We love you Scout!


  1. "How lucky you are that you get to take your dog everywhere"


    That one really gets me

    Great post Michelle! And YAY Scout!

  2. Your a beautiful family!!! We luv ya.Scout is the best dog.He is so lucky to be in your family cuz you are all the best.Sarah is an awesome talented young lady.:)

  3. Dave Huber, Jennifer (Huber) Colosi's fatherMarch 16, 2013 at 4:07 AM

    Very well written and informative. Thank you!


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