Friday, February 20, 2009

Update and answers

(This is Dixie alerting. First, she pushes against me. If I don't respond she hits with her paw and stares at me until I test and treat.)

It’s been a fast-moving last month.

My insulin pump was part of a recall. Not for a big issue, just a little technical error when an extended bolus was given. I was sent two replacement pumps--one for my current pump and one for my old pump that is out of warranty. I have to transfer my settings by hand, because I use a Mac, and the software only works on PCs. I had the new pumps sitting around for a couple days waiting to be programmed. Finally, I decided it was time. I programmed both, and put one back in the closet as a back up. I hooked up to the new one, and sent the recalled ones back to Smith.

Two days later, I was eating a higher carb meal. I bolused, and started eating. I was watching an old ER rerun at the time, and kept wondering why there was a high pitched noise coming from the show. Finally I realized that the noise was coming from my pump. I took it out of my pocket and it was squealing and had the message “depleted battery.” I knew something was fishy because I had just put a new battery in when I started using it two days earlier. I replaced the battery and continued the bolus. I got another error message (occlusion alarm) and knew that this pump was on the fritz. I quickly got out the “backup” one that I had programmed and hooked up to that one. I called Smith and the technical support had me go through the history. She finally said, “yeah, it’s broken. We’ll send you another one.” I was thankful to have a backup ready to use. Having to go back to shots is really crippling.

I got a Wii Fit. It’s been fun playing with it. Although it’s a little humbling to have a Mii (the little character that you design to represent yourself) on the t.v. become plumpy after the Fit weighs. Your character starts out as stick thin, then plumps out after it calculates your weight/BMI.

Lately, I’ve been getting a slurry of emails, etc requesting information about Dixie and diabetes alert service dogs. I’m posting this as a review, in case new readers are reading this:

1. Dixie is my diabetes alert service dog. She alerts me when I’m low, high, or moving out of range. The longer we’ve been together, the smaller her “range” is. (she’s really happiest if my blood sugar is between 85-110. Heck, so am I!)

2. I got Dixie because I have had significant hypoglycemia unawareness since the day I was diagnosed. Even as a little, newly diagnosed child I was unable to tell when I was low. I have struggled with overnight hypoglycemia. I don't wake up on my own if I'm low. I was relying on friends and family to "alert" me when I was low. It was frustrating and embarrassing.

3. I don't test less because I have Dixie. Actually, I probably test more.

4. Dixie was trained at Great Plains Assistance Dog Foundation located in Jud, North Dakota. I spent three weeks at the facility training with Dixie. And no, she wasn’t trained using “scent training” techniques. (as some places use) She alerted me the first day that I worked with her, I praised her, and it was as if a light bulb immediately went off in her head. “AH, you want me to tell you that!” She didn’t alert 100% of the time for several months. It takes time (and experience) to master a job. That’s why it’s important for Dixie to be with me all (most) of the time. She is amazing at her job because she is around me all the time. I’m guessing that she wouldn’t be as skilled if I just “used” her overnight and didn’t take her with me to work, etc.

5. Dixie had to pass a “public access” exam before I could leave Great Plains. This test allows her to have access to public places. (she passed with flying colors, by the way) This means that Dixie can go everywhere with me...stores, school, haircuts, businesses, etc. She has flown with me on airplanes, and traveled in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in a canoe with me.

6. Dixie cost $15,000 dollars. The school district that I work for did a large fundraiser for me, in addition to some money I got from my older sister. I was able to pay the amount in full. Scholarships, etc are available, but I didn’t need one because of the fund raising. Some service dog organizations (especially ones with major corporate sponsorship/funding) provide service dogs at no cost to the recipient. This seems to be a point of controversy in some of the comments/emails I get from people. Some believe that all service dogs should be free. Some think that $15,000 is excessive. Most wonder how I was able to pay that amount.

A service dog isn’t for everyone. But it was worth it for me and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

7. My life has changed because of Dixie. My A1c is the lowest it’s ever been, with minimal fluctuations and no severe lows. She’s a great dog.

I know that many people are interested in diabetes alert service dogs, and it's often hard to find information. Before I got Dixie, I googled, etc looking for information. There was little out there to read. I'm hoping that for people investigating now, there's more out there. I've answered some of the most common questions that I get. Feel free to ask away if you have others.


Lynnea said...

I still think Dixie is so incredibly adorable. I have a soft spot for black lab type dogs, though.

I have one (o.k. maybe more) question....have you heard of anyone being able to do the training at home? What kind of training was used? How long was Dixie at "school" before she was ready to be released?

O.K....I think I'm done with the questions for now!:-)

Molly said...

About two years ago, a woman from North Carolina found me through google. She had a puppy and was training it herself. I think it's possible to train the dog yourself. It's about picking the right dog who wants that job. I have a rat terrier (Ella) who I attempted to train, but it was a bust.

The training was really about forming a bond and basic obedience. They picked a dog with the right personality to be an alert dog. They taught me to be patient with her learning and to make a big deal every time she alerted.

Most dogs stay at Great Plains until they're two. Dixie came to me when she was about 15 months old, because she was ready. Great Plains had rescued her from the humane society when she was 8 months old. So she spent 7 months there.

Jill said...

I must say that I think Dixie is amazing! I've showed your blog and pics of Dixie to Kacey before and Kacey insists that when she grows up she wants a dog like Dixie. And it wouldn't surprise me if she did that!

I also think training at home is very possible. But some animals just have that ability...When we had our cat Miley inside the house, she'd go sit over Kacey like a mother hen when she was high and when she was low she'd keep meowing as if to tell her she needed to test. Nearly 90% of the time the cat was right!

Give hugs to Dixie from Kacey cuz she just adores her!

Minnesota Nice said...

OMG the pictures were wonderful. I could just feel Dixie's intensity through them. She's a keeper......

Scott K. Johnson said...

I just LOVE Dixie. She is the best.

Diane J Standiford said...

This post will help a lot of people. Go Dixie!!

parti.ann said...

No, I don't find more information re: help in training diabetic alert dogs on the net as of today. I am currently attempting to train my own standard poodle, none of the centers offer poodles..(allergies). I have gobs of questions but the one I have at the moment is. When you are low, Dixie alerts, you treat her then yourself. Fairly quickly your BS rises. Dixie is done. But when you have a lets say 400 high BS. Since it will take "some time" to come down into comfort zone, how do you tell Dixie it has been taken care of cause it would wear you both out for her to continue to alert for a hour..?
-Ann, 20+ years diabetic
Lily, poodle in training

Molly said...


Q: "When you are low, Dixie alerts, you treat her then yourself. Fairly quickly your BS rises. Dixie is done."

A: *Actually, Dixie stops her alerting once I've tested and treated.

Q: "But when you have a lets say 400 high BS. Since it will take "some time" to come down into comfort zone, how do you tell Dixie it has been taken care of cause it would wear you both out for her to continue to alert for a hour..?"

A: *I don't have many high blood sugars, so answering this isn't simple. When I have been high (maybe high 200s, low 300s) it's usually because my pump site is bad/out. She alerts until I test and manipulate my pump, then she settles. She might re-alert in another 30 minutes, but then I know that my change or correction hasn't solved the high, and I bolus again or check the site.
I think that the more trials a dog has, the more refined they will be in their alerts. That's why I believe it's so important for your dog to be with you as much as possible.

Hope that helps... let me know if you want more information. I'm happy to share my experience.

Diane J Standiford said...

Low battery! Grrr, scary. Glad it was fixed. Love your dog. I will highlight your blog as I know many will be interested.

CALpumper said...

Great blog Molly!

I am slightly jealous of you and Dixie. She is Beautiful and amazing.

I saw a story a couple years ago about a young boy with a German Shepard alerting him and his parents to his lows during the night. I was impressed and started looking into my options.

Not many out my way, unless, like you, I put up the money, of which I don't have.

But I do wake up when I am low during sleep. I don't have frequent unawareness. But man, I would still love to have an "alert" dog. ;-)

Keep up the good work, both of you! And thank you for sharing.