Thursday, August 13, 2009

Introducing..."The Dog Lady."

I don’t exactly know why I haven’t written about this before. I think it’s because I didn’t want to be known as “the dog lady,” but leaving out this huge part of my life any longer seems dishonest, so I’m coming right out with it.

We have a diabetic service dog, and he is the most amazing animal on God’s green earth.

There, I said it. I have a secret weapon, a cheat sheet if you will, and he has completely changed our lives.

I applied for the Dogs4Diabetics program on a whim 2 ½ years ago, during Christmas. It is based in Concord, California about an hour and a half from where we live. I knew there was a long waiting list, but hey, I had 2 diabetics at the time, that had to count for something. Miraculously we heard back right away. A few more applications and a few months later we were in.

The expectation of the program was that we were to attend the training meetings every Tuesday night and the first Sunday of every month until they found the right dog for our family. Generally it took from 6 months to 2 years to be placed with a dog. During our training period we would work extensively with service dogs and learn how to properly handle them.

Dogs4Diabetics was founded by a Type 1 man who is a higher up for Guide Dogs for the Blind. While he was on a business trip, a dog he was traveling with woke him up from a severe low in his hotel room. Shortly after, he began working with dogs that for various reasons did not make the guide dog program, and career changed them as a medical alert dog for diabetics. Part of the training included hiding a small swath that was rubbed with the scent of a diabetic going low. They would hide the swath and the dogs would get a treat if they found it. Once the dog recognized the scent, it was fairly easy to apply it to a human, because when we go low our entire body exudes the scent. It is a very powerful scent to a dog.

B was diagnosed a few months after we started the program. B adjusted beautifully to his new life, especially due to the fact that this dog we were working so hard to get would indeed be his too. I on the other hand spiraled into a deep depression. It lasted almost 5 months, 3 diabetics, school starting, diabetic dog training…it was too much diabetes. It was about 10 months after we started the program that I considered stopping. I was too overwhelmed and tired. I knew it would take a super special dog to be able to work with my family and I was losing hope. Just then they handed us the leash of a beautiful yellow lab named Lawton. They said, “We want you to work only with this guy for a little while, let’s see if there is chemistry” They had us train with him for a few months and one day we received an email that we would be able to take him home and see if he would be the right fit for our family.

FEAR- we could take him home on a trial basis, what if he didn’t alert? What if it didn’t work out? The boys would be DEVESTATED!

Lawton came home with us in March of 2008. He woke me up the first night he was with us to alert us on a low. We graduated from the program in October 2008 and Lawton is now part of the family. He goes everywhere with us. In public, when he has his jacket on, he is the perfect dog; Head down and very serious. At home is his a goofball, leaping around the house like Bambi and taunting the boys with his toys. For the boys, he takes away all that is bad about Diabetes. In public and at school they happily answer questions about what Lawton does and are very proud they we are a family worthy of Lawton’s love.

And for me, Lawton has changed everything. For the first time in 10 years, I can sleep. He wakes me if there is a problem and alerts a couple times a day. He catches lows that I NEVER would have dreamed of, and better yet he often alerts me when the boys are dropping, before they hit the scary number. He has put the boys in a box of how they are supposed to smell, and if they go too low, or even too high, he alerts. He is my miracle. I still do all the work, I don’t check the kids less because he is here and night time checks are still a must. But, I for sure have a back up and a piece of mind that was not there before. He alerts me to about 95% of the boys lows.

Dogs4Diabetics is a non-profit. We were asked to pay a small application fee, (I don’t remember, I think it was $50.) and we were asked to buy a couple books, a treat bag, and a doggy first aid kit. We were not asked to pay a penny more for Lawton. He is easily worth $50,000 and he was just given to us. They also gave us his bed, bowls, flea and heartworm meds for the first few months, and toys. The people behind the program only want the best dog for your family and are very careful who they partner you up with. Many of them worked full time for years without pay to get this program off the ground.

I am in debt to the wonderful people at D4D. I wish I could clone Lawton and send a copy of him out to every diabetic in the world.

There you go, I am not super woman. I have serious help. Between Lawton (who alerted us 5 times yesterday,) my husband’s parents (who feed us 3 times a week,) my parents (who have us over every Friday,) and my sister in law (who happily babysits my 4 boys and the dog anytime,) I am spoiled rotten.


  1. WOW!!! WOW!!! WOW!!! I would LOVE LOVE LOVE one of those dogs :) I've heard about them, but have never actually met (well, you know) someone who has one!!!

    What an incredible honor and blessing!!! PLEASE post a pic of Lawson and keep his stories coming!!!

    Does he go to school? If so, which one does he go with?

  2. I've heard of this too but never knew anyone who used one! I would so LOVE LOVE LOVE to have one of these for Sydney. I think it would be just awesome! I am so glad you posted this!!

  3. I want one too! Well, we already have a dog, so another one just isn't possible right now. This would be so amazing to have for Elise, though.

    Do you know if they give dogs to people in other states, or is it only in CA?

  4. AMAZING! I'm SO glad you have him! I've dreamed of a service dog for Jada for quite a long time! Maybe some day... I can't wait to hear more about him!

  5. Hi Meri,
    So glad to have found you!
    Lawton sounds amazing. I wish my husband wasn't deathly allergic to dogs because I would love to have one to help alert us to blood sugar lows...

  6. I am so happy you shared this with us!! I am so happy you have Lawton!!! I am so happy you have all the mentioned support of your family! And yes, you are STILL superwoman!

    I have to say, when Maddison was diagnosed we had just lost our Golden Retriever. The first thing that came to mind was getting another puppy to watch over Maddison at night. We applied, but because we already have another Golden we weren't eligible. So, we got another puppy anyway of course. I always intended to train her (Roxxie) myself, but of course life happens.....

    Well, Roxxie had her first litter of puppies some time later, and I contacted all the different Hypo dog organizations. We wanted to donate at least 1 puppy to the organization, it would have made us soooo happy to help someone else with one of our pups....long story, they wouldnt take one of our puppies without hip/heart and eye clearance, something we couldnt afford to do. So, we donated 2 puppies to the 2008 JDRF promise ball silent auction instead! Each puppy brought in I guess we still got to help out in some way....

    My point is....YAY that you were able to get a service dog! Maddison still wants one badly....your story just kicked me into high gear. From now on Roxxie will be brought to every low we have....I know we can train her ourselves! Its amazing Lawton picks up so many lows!((hugs)) I love it!

  7. Hi Meri,

    I'm writing from StoryCorps, America's largest nonprofit national oral history project. I thought you and your readers would be interested in listening to StoryCorps' latest story to broadcast on NPR this morning. Vietnam veteran Jim Sargent and his brother, Don, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 17, interview each other. You can take a listen here:

    StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another's lives through listening. Since 2003, tens of thousands of people from across the country have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to take home and share and is also archived for generations to come at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to the award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet. Select stories have also been published in the New York Times bestselling book, Listening Is an Act of Love.

    I hope you take the time to listen and share.

    Amber Leigh

  8. WOW I'm so happy that you were able to find a wonderful dog for you and your family. I have been reading a lot about diabetic alert dogs. We all need someone special to help with the burden of Diabetes! My family has just adopted a Airedale Golden Retriever puppy in hopes of training her to be an alert dog for my daughter Cara. We live in Canada and I was unable to find any organizations like D4D here. So I thought that I can try to train a puppy with a lot of help from the professionals.


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