My Best Friend Addie, the Alert Dog

10/22/15
WRITTEN BY: Russell Roberts
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My diagnosis with Type 1 all came about because I broke my wrist at soccer camp. I was 11 years old and it was the summer before sixth grade. When I went to get my cast changed, my doctor noticed my excessive drinking (of water!) and sent me to Urgent Care where they ran all the tests and we found out I have Type 1. I went through the standard process: meet bad doctors, find good ones, start on shots and then move to a pump. Now 5 years later, I have the original model pump I started with (I’ve broken a couple along the way), a Dexcom CGM that can be a pain to wear, and Addie, my diabetic alert service dog. Addie is the best tool I have for diabetes and my best friend wrapped into one.

Addie alerts me to changes in my blood sugar levels before they become dangerous. Alert dogs are trained to smell the chemical changes in their handler’s body when blood sugar drops or rises. By choice, I only reward Addie for recognizing lows or significant drops because they are harder to catch and more dangerous in the short run. Addie alerts me 20-30 times a week and is right 95% of the time.

Probably my best story about Addie’s abilities happened my freshman year of high school, about 2 months after I got her. I was playing in a lacrosse game, and Addie started going crazy about 60 yards away from me. Not knowing she was alerting, my parents just told her to lie down and I was none the wiser. Ten minutes later I pulled myself out of the game, and was sitting on the sidelines because my blood sugar had gone from 188 to 47.

Even though it can be awkward having a dog with me all the time, she is my favorite aspect of life. One of the awkward things about having Addie is all the questions people ask. At the same time, being asked these questions all the time has helped me to become more patient with other people, and even with myself. Overall, it is a really small price to pay for such a great friend. While nobody with Type One is lucky, I can easily say I am very fortunate to have Addie.

I got Addie about a year and a half ago, when I was fifteen. She came through Dogs4Diabetics (D4D), a Non-profit Organization that places diabetic alert dogs in Central and Northern California. To receive a dog, I first filled out a short application with D4D, and once that was accepted, a longer one. When my applications were approved, I went to the D4D location in Concord, California for an interview. After that, D4D conducted a home visit to make sure that my house was safe for a dog to live in. When I passed that inspection, finally I began client class training in Concord, which is an hour’s drive from my home in the Bay Area.

Client class meets every weekend, usually both Saturday and Sunday. Now I know that driving two hours for class twice a week for 2 1/2 months sounds like a pain, however, I LOVED client class. It was super fun. I learned how to handle a dog, understand cues that the dog might give off, how to administer first aid to a dog, and what living with a dog is like.

At D4D client classes consist of generally 5-8 diabetics. If any of these people are kids then their parents join. At the end of client class we all took the Public Access Certification Test (PACT) with a dog to show the trainers that we learned how to use a dog in the busy streets of San Francisco. The day after taking the PACT, we took a written test covering all the material we had learned. In order to be eligible for a dog we had to pass both.

After completing all my applications and tests, I went on a waiting list, because there are more humans who want a dog than dogs they can train.   D4D creates a pool of waiting clients, then matches dogs and humans up based on lifestyle and personalities.

For example, client A may have been been on the waitlist for a year now, lives in San Francisco and is an introvert who does not like to go out or be very active. Client B lives out in the suburbs of Palo Alto, has been on the waitlist for a month now, has an active lifestyle, and loves to be out and about. If a high energy dog who does not like living in a small space had just finished training and become available, Client B would be placed with this dog because their activity levels and lifestyle match up best. Addie and I are living proof of how well this system works, and working with her has changed my life.


Editor’s Notes: Dogs 4 Diabetics is a non-profit organization that provides quality medical-alert assistance dogs at almost no cost to insulin dependent diabetics. Their program relies on thorough and extensive ongoing training for dogs and their handlers, as well as a deep emphasis on carefully considered matches between dogs and humans, and follow up services.

Dogs 4 Diabetics offers information and resources about a wide range of topics including what to look for in a diabetes dog training program, variation in program costs, background in chemical scent training, and understanding why consistent standards for medical alert dogs are so important. 


Read more about Diabetic Alert Dogs here



Russell Roberts

High School Junior Russell Roberts was diagnosed with T1D at 11 years old. He is captain of the robotics team and passionate about Lacrosse as well as canines. He likes to refurbish classic cars and drive tractors.