Diabetic-Alert Dogs Keep Insulin Dependent Owners Safe
August 25, 2009
Labrador retrievers, Kolumbo (yellow) and Sherman (black), are two playful dogs who know the difference of work and play. They are Service dogs helping out Kristin Wilson and Sheila Zamora, both diagnosed with diabetes since they were 6 and 17 years old, respectively.
Both women claim their dogs have done a great job at detecting any drop in blood-sugar levels. Although not yet scientifically proven, the Diabetics4Dogs, a nonprofit organization that holds trainings for these diabetic-alert canines, firmly believe in a dog’s ability to ‘smell’ a hypoglycemic episode. In fact, a study was conducted at Queen’s University Belfast (Ireland) in 2008, where 212 dog owners with Type 1 diabetes were questioned, and it was found that 65% of the dogs reacted to such an episode at least once, while about 31% reacted to more than 11 hypoglycemic episodes.
Such reactions include licking their owners, jumping on them, or barking, while others got scared and ran away, trembling. Take note that none of these dogs had proper training.
Kolumbo and Sherman were trained by Diabetics4Dogs in Bay Area, Concord CA. According to the Program Director, Carol Edwards, these dogs have the ability to smell endorphins and acetone, among others. During training, the dogs are exposed to the smell of such elements, or the scent of low-blood sugar, along with other types of training such as social and obedience training. She did indicate that since they started training service dogs in 2004, a few owners have brought back their dogs because of their inability to detect hypoglycemia.
Wilson and Zamora, however, have remained grateful for their dogs. Being insulin dependents, their sugar levels could go down to a dangerous level without any warning sign, and may result to seizures, and even coma. Zamora has had 7 seizures in her life, 5 of which have occurred over the last 2 years. Wilson has not encountered any, but says having Kolumbo is very instrumental to seizure prevention.
Wilson says that to get Kulombo, she spent $50 for application, a hundred dollars for training materials, and miscellaneous costs such as the dog crate was about $1,400. Currently, she and her dog are in training and will not graduate until Kulombo becomes very accurate at detecting any drop in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, Zamora says her dog is very accurate, detecting 3 hypoglycemic episodes in the past 2 weeks alone.