April 10, 2012

DADs can be diabetic's best friend

DR. JONATHAN BEACH, Ask the Diabetes Doctor

---- — Since starting this column, I have responded to a series of questions regarding low-blood-sugar detection and treatment.

I have left out one of the newer and more exciting modalities for the detection of low sugars. I have been going through the selection process myself and was hoping to have as much experience as possible to write about.

Diabetic Alert Dogs are service dogs that are trained to detect changes in a patient's blood sugar by scent. With proper training, these animals can detect blood-sugar changes 20 to 30 minutes before the event occurs. They can be trained to notify the patient or family members of a blood-sugar issue and can also learn to retrieve blood-testing equipment or snacks.

Although a new concept, a few companies train service dogs for patients with diabetes.

As I am participating in this process, I will relate my experiences. Please note that depending on the company you choose to work with, details may be different. Regardless of my personal participation, the Northeast Center for Diabetes Care and Education will be working to raise money for local patients interested in Diabetic Alert Dogs (DAD). I feel this is an excellent method to provide enhanced security to people with diabetes.

After considerable research on the Internet and multiple phone conversations, I decided to move forward with Guardian Angel Service Dogs. This is an arm of Warren Retrievers, a group that trains Labrador retrievers for service work.

When a litter is born, they go through some rigorous testing to identify those puppies with the highest quality scent ability. After selection, the pups are put through a battery of rigorous testing to identify energy levels and behavioral responses.

Soon after deciding to go through with a DAD, I had an extensive phone interview to assist the trainer with my selection. They were questioning me to identify energy and activity levels, as well as what sort of life the DAD may be expected to work.

After my interview, there was about a three-month wait period. Although they always have pregnant dogs, they make every effort to have a good match. Likewise, it is a first-come, first-served process. By the middle of January, we received a call notifying us that I was in the top five of the selection process, and it was time to pick out a name.

Late one Friday evening at the end of February, I had a phone call from Dan Warren, who told me the dog had been selected. He gave me a long report of the types of tests the puppy had gone through, how he scored and why they felt that this was the best selection.

Banting was due to join our family in about seven weeks. A few days after notification, I received an email with a significant amount of information about DADs and new puppies. I was told that Banting would be delivered with the trainer in the first few weeks of April. They also provided me with a rather large manual about DADs and the training process.

Since then, I have been collecting saliva-soaked cotton swabs at various blood-sugar levels and freezing them for training. Likewise, we have been making great efforts to puppy proof the home and prepare for this remarkable tool. Thankfully, Guardian Angel Service Dogs sends a trainer out with the puppy to initiate the relationship and give us a good start to the training. They also have the trainer follow up with us to check on issues and enhance the training.

During the delivery and training process, this group will assist with fundraising for other families in the area. This is an investment, and I appreciate any group that will assist anyone in the local region trying to get a DAD.

I am happy to state, that since my initiating this process, two patients have also started the DAD journey.

Stand by for updates.

Dr. Jonathan Beach, who has lived with diabetes himself since age 4, heads the Northeast Center for Diabetes Care and Education at Urgicare of the Northeast in Plattsburgh. Send questions for this column, which runs the second Tuesday of every month, to: Features Editor, P.O. Box 459, Plattsburgh, NY 12901 or email