What to Consider Before Getting a Diabetic Alert Dog
Eight months into our 4-year-old’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis, he suffered a hypoglycemic seizure in the backseat of our car while we were out of cell service range. I pulled over on the shoulder of a windy canyon, lunged across seats and stabbed him with a needle full of glucagon in front of his little brother and sister.
Angus crashed so hard and so fast that his Dexcom was unable to keep up—we were blindsided. But that’s what this disease does—it blindsides you. That night I sobbed in my husband’s arms, so discouraged by the tools we had to manage this disease. “It’s not good enough! We have the best of the best and we still almost lost him.” That’s when the research started.
Our decision to get a diabetic alert dog (DAD) was not made based on a widely romanticized view that these dogs are a “cure all.” Our decision to get a DAD was made after weeks of research and connecting with families that were already living the experience. Service dogs are not for everyone, and having type 1 diabetes isn’t the sole reason you should get a service dog.
With the recommendation of a friend, we were matched with a dog through the National Institute of Diabetic Alert Dogs, an organization with an impeccable reputation within the industry. Side note: Please do your research! There are so many fraudulent organizations out there and we so often hear about families losing thousands of dollars because of it.
Angus named his dog Bruce, after Bruce Wayne. It was the first time we had seen his face light up since diagnosis. He was bonded to this dog before they ever met.
We flew to Phoenix in June of 2015, after Bruce had completed an extensive training program (started at birth) which included scent detection and public access. That dog alerted a low blood sugar within the first five minutes of meeting Angus … and the Dexcom read 126 and stable.
Angus entered kindergarten this year, along with Bruce, his service dog. Every day, I send my child to school knowing that he is safe—both with Dexcom and DAD. This dog is more than just a tool for disease management. He is the lightness to a heavy diagnosis. He is a lifeline. He is Angus’s best friend.
Questions to ask yourself before getting a DAD:
Are you a consistent person?
Service dogs need consistency, whether with obedience or scent detection. Bruce alerts every time Angus hits 80 or 180. That means every post-meal spike has to be acknowledged and rewarded promptly. When you begin to ignore alerts, your dog will stop alerting.
Does attention make you uncomfortable?
Because the amount of attention you will receive with a service dog is enough to make an introvert run for the hills. There will always be questions. There will always be idiots. There will always be attention.
Can you afford it?
I’m not just talking about the initial costs of purchasing a dog. I’m talking about grooming, food, vet visits, vests and leashes, health insurance, etc. This isn’t a pet, this is a service dog. They require premium care, especially in regards to regular grooming for public access.
Do you want more work?
It sounds like a silly question, but it’s an honest one. Life is not easier because we have Bruce. It’s one more body in the grocery store. It’s one more body to get ready for school in the morning. It’s one more expense. And it means more finger pokes for Angus.
Follow Batman and Bruce on Facebook.
Hear what a DAD trainer has to say in “Dog Talk with Early Alert Canines.”
Read a personal account: “Elle and Coach—How a Diabetes Alert Dog Changed My Daughter’s Life” by Stefany Shaheen.
Read “My Best Friend Addie, The Alert Dog” by Russell Roberts.