May 8, 2012

Diabetic alert dog a pleasant addition to family

DR. JONATHAN BEACH, Ask the Diabetes Doctor

---- — Those of you who read this column regularly will recall that my diabetic alert dog was due to join the family very soon.

Banting arrived on Friday, April 13, and was welcomed by Robin and me, with WCAX prepared to film and interview the occasion. We spent that weekend working with the trainers to learn about Banting, his special skills and proper care. Training sites included the house, work, various restaurants and the mall.

The trainer's goals were to educate me with respect to working with Banting in various locations and to learn to detect his warnings.

If any of us were skeptical about his ability to alert me to blood-sugar changes, Banting cured us of that in our first 30 minutes together. While sitting on the couch with Robin and me, Banting became rather excited and sniffed my face a few times. Keen to his actions, the trainers suggested a blood-sugar test. Apparently, with all of the excitement, I had not finished my breakfast and was faced with a sugar of 40. Needless to say, we were all amazed.

The last few weeks have been filled with learning, dog treats and many blood tests. One of the more difficult issues has been differentiating between a blood-sugar warning and the need to go outside. As a result, many blood tests have been completed out on the lawn.

Although still a puppy, Banting does very well with blood-glucose detection. For example, as we walked through the mall, he became very irritated and started whining. A quick check — done with Banting paying close attention — demonstrated a sugar of 130. We continued our walk, and he continued to be irritated. Suspicious that he was detecting a trend, I rechecked the sugar about 20 minutes later and was pleased to see that he was right. I was down to 60. After a snack and a few moments of rest, we were all walking pleasantly through the shops.

I have been working closely with Banting during our training times to help him with his education. He is slowly mastering a paw for a low sugar and a nose nudge for a high. He cooperates with every blood test and will eagerly await a reward if he has been correct with alerting me.

Aside from daily training, I submit a weekly report to Warren Retrievers to update them on our progress. This includes an alert log indicating both successes and misses with a behavior description and a letter concerning activities and any issues. This report keeps the trainer abreast of developments and makes our next visit in two months more organized.

Concerning public acceptance, with his debut on WCAX and WPTZ, things have been fairly easy. Most people approach with questions or innocent curiosity.

There has been only one issue at a local dentist office, and I feel that was due to ignorance. The relatively small office felt the need to question my family and I extensively and rather rudely about Banting. Robin was even asked if bringing the dog in was really necessary. After explaining the situation and stressing that it is illegal to ask a person what sort of service dog they have or what the disability is, they were far more pleasant.

Other than that single event, I have to give great credit to the North Country for their acceptance of Banting.

Overall, I highly recommend this service dog for folks with diabetes and wide sugar fluctuations. Without a doubt, it is a lot of work but overall a wonderful challenge with great benefits. I would encourage anyone with questions to complete the research and check out or Warren Retrievers.

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