Tag Archives: Early Alert Canines

How one young woman learned to trust her life to the paws of a dog

Just one month after a dog named Ricki came into Lauren Burke’s life, the young woman nearly died. Thanks to Ricki, she didn’t.

Ricki, a 2-year-old yellow Lab, isn’t only a companion. She’s a specially trained diabetic alert dog, trained by Early Alert Canines (EAC). Lauren is a 22 year old living in Oakland, Calif., who was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 12.

“My endocrinologist first told me about diabetic alert dogs when I was in high school,” she said. “That planted the seed, and for years I knew I wanted one of these dogs. I started looking into it in college, but when I first began living alone, I knew it was time.”

Living alone was a big deal, because there had been a few middle of the night low blood sugar incidents where Lauren didn’t wake up until her electronic blood sugar sensor stopped just vibrating and started shrieking. “That could have ended really poorly, so I thought I’d better do something about it,” Lauren said.

She applied for a dog from EAC in spring of 2015, and began the series of blood sugar logs they require. In the summer Lauren started volunteering for them as well. Then, a year later, she came in to learn how she and her new canine partner would to work together. After training, she took Ricki home.

“It was awesome,” Lauren said of that early bonding experience. “It’s still awesome. There are times you don’t even realize, you feel fine, and she starts pawing at you, and you check your sugar and it’s 400, or it’s 100 and falling.”

A month after Ricki came to live with Lauren in her 250-square foot apartment, Lauren got a cold and slept around the clock. “When you’re sick, your blood sugars are all over the place, and you’re so exhausted you don’t even feel it,” she said. “Ricki woke me up from my nap sitting with her face on the edge of my bed, and would not let me go back to sleep until I checked my blood sugar — and it was 50 and falling. I like to think I would have eventually woken up, but she definitely saved me that time.”

Lauren and Ricki trained together for two weeks, and one of the most important lessons they taught her was that every single time the dog alerts, you give the dog a treat and test your blood sugar – “No matter how much your finger hurts,” laughed Lauren. The training also covered issues of access, which is guaranteed to service dog teams under the Americans with Disabilities Act. “There’s one family-owned restaurant we go to,” Lauren said. “The waitress is allergic, or maybe just afraid, and always asks me to leave Ricki outside. I tell her no, and she asks someone else to wait on me.

“Fortunately, Ricki is so cute and so well-behaved that people look at her and say, when they find out she’s only 2, ‘How can I get a dog like that?’”

Lauren graduated from college last spring and hasn’t found a job yet. “Before I got Ricki, I might have just laid in bed and watched Netflix,” she said. “Now, I get up, and go out with the dog. She’s been a motivation because I need to make sure I eat, and she eats, and that we do something together.”

Ricki’s training isn’t over yet, either. “Her alerting is at 93 percent accuracy, but there are still little things we’re working on,” Lauren said. “Her sitting there staring at me is not going to be enough when I’m doing something intensely, or driving. I don’t want her jumping up into the front seat, but sitting there staring just isn’t effective.”

Lauren explained that some dogs paw, and then bark if the pawing is ignored. “Ricki is a really quiet dog,” she said. “Sometimes she gives a little woof when someone’s at the door, or a soft growl when she’s playing with other dogs. She’s not nearly as vocal as some other dogs.”

Lauren took Ricki to visit her grandparents, and her grandfather was less than enthusiastic about the pairing. “He raked me over the coals, telling me no one would ever hire me, they’d just look at an equally qualified candidate who doesn’t have a dog,” she said.

Not only that, but he didn’t trust the dog to keep his granddaughter safe. “He said, ‘How can you trust your life and health to a dog? It’s irresponsible. You’re so dumb for doing this.’”

The more Lauren spoke with other people with diabetic alert canines, and the more she worked with Ricki, however, the more she realized he was wrong. “This dog is better than the technology. She can pick up falling blood glucose 15 minutes before my meter!

“I care enough about myself, my life, my longevity, and my long-term health that I don’t see it as ‘trusting my health to the paws of a dog,’ but a having a very valuable tool in my diabetes arsenal.”

Today is World Diabetes Day. Because diabetic alert dogs shouldn’t only be for wealthy people, Early Alert Canines provides their dogs to diabetics for a $200 application fee, compared to the $25,000 charged by some organizations. They can do this only because of the generosity of people just like you. Can you give today, and help provide a diabetes alert dog for someone who needs one?

Diabetic alert dog Remmy keeps her little girl safe

A little girl is alive and well today thanks to her diabetic alert dog.

When Rebecca Russell, a registered nurse from Cameron Park, Calif., first learned about diabetic alert dogs, it was just shortly after her 6-year-old daughter, Sage, had been diagnosed as diabetic. She began researching everything she could, only to come up short at the cost of the dogs from most sources.

“It was really heartbreaking to see the dogs were $25,000,” she said. “It’s so difficult and expensive to manage this disease process, and to feel you can’t afford one of these lifesaving dogs. Then I found the Early Alert Canines Facebook page.”

EAC charges only a $200 application fee and a $2,000 deposit that’s refunded when the team graduates or if the program isn’t able to find a dog for the diabetic. “I messaged them and said I’d like to know more,” Rebecca said. “Beth from EAC called right away. We talked for 45 minutes, and we were both crying!”

The program paired Sage with a dog named Remmy, a 2-year-old yellow Lab who originally started out being trained as a guide dog for the blind, then had a career change. Because Sage was too young to handle a service dog on her own, Rebecca was an integral part of the training process.

“Remmy went with us to the hotel, to dinner, to the pool,” she said. “We were always together, tied at the hip. We did some field trips to Target, and went out to lunch at In ‘N’ Out Burger, so the dogs and their new families could have real-life experiences with the trainers around.

“It was an extremely comfortable and knowledge-filled week. I walked away feeling pretty confident in being able to go home with this dog and have her do what she was trained to do for my daughter.”

In the beginning, they had to call in every alert and every blood sugar change Remmy missed. Then twice a week they’d call one of the trainers and go over every single log entry, so they could see was the dog performing to an 80 percent pass rate (the rate for graduation) within four weeks. To graduate, Remmy would also have to have done an alert in the car, an alert at nighttime, and regular all-over alerts. “That was really challenging, to have to log all that information when you’re scrambling at 2 AM to sleep and live your life, and you have to sit down and get out your spreadsheet!” Rebecca said.

Luckily, Remmy passed everything quickly, and Rebecca only had to contend with that process for a month. “EAC has always been there as support when we’ve called with questions,” she said. “You’re never alone. That family feeling is always there.”

What about Sage? The little girl, now 8, was extremely excited about Remmy from the very beginning. “The first week we had her, she would say, ‘Remmy saves my life every day. She watches over and protects me.’”

After four weeks of constant finger poking to check her sugar and fill in the required logs, Sage got pretty burned out. She’d even get annoyed when Remmy would alert, because it meant another poke. “Now that part is over, and we don’t have to do the extra checking, she loves to walk Remmy around again,” Rebecca said. “Out in public, it gives her confidence about her diabetes. She used to hate when people would say, ‘What’s that on your arm?’ about her sensors, but now Remmy is around, she’s confident. She loves to talk about her dog. Remmy is her guardian, and she loves to show her off!”

Having a diabetic alert dog didn’t only require some adjustments on Sage’s part, but on Rebecca’s as well. “The first week we had Remmy, before she really knew us and before we really knew her, we were up at Tahoe,” she said. “We went to dinner at someone’s house, and there were three young children Sage’s age and four other dogs.

“Everything was fine, Sage was beyond this little fence playing with dogs and kids on the lawn, I was up on the deck chatting. Suddenly Remmy stood up. I thought she just wanted to play, and kept saying, ‘Sit down, it’s okay.’

“Then she turned to me, stared, and pawed me. I wasn’t too concerned because I didn’t think there was any reason anything would be going on with Sage’s blood sugar, but I had one of the kids bring her to me. And when I checked her sugar, it was 34! And Sage had felt nothing!”

Had Remmy not alerted so persistently, given the isolated area they were in, Rebecca said she wasn’t sure they’d have had time to get Sage the help she needed. “It could have been a bad situation, but Remmy knew her job, even with Sage beyond a fence, other dogs and people and food around, and me ignoring her, she knew her job.

“I thought it wasn’t that big a deal, and I was completely wrong. Now I know not to ever ignore the dog, because I’ve learned whenever Remmy is anxious, it’s always because of Sage’s levels.”

One time, the family was visiting Rebecca’s father, an uncontrolled type 2 diabetic. “Remmy was adamantly alerting, but I checked Sage and she was fine. Then I checked my dad’s blood sugar, and it was sky high! It turns out Remmy alerts to him, too, because she sees him as part of the family.”

Having Remmy has changed life for Sage and her family forever. “We were at Costco one Sunday, and she was walking Remmy down the aisle,” Rebecca said. “Everyone was getting out of her way, and Sage had her chin up and shoulders back. And that’s wonderful, because diabetes can really get kids down. I felt like nothing could touch her.”

Service dogs shouldn’t be available only to the wealthy. Early Alert Canines is able to help families like Sage’s only thanks to donations from people just like you. Can you give today, and help provide a diabetic alert dog to someone who needs it?