Life is better with Asti, my Diabetes Alert Dog – Alice Martina Smith
I have been a type 1 diabetic for more than 40 years. I have also been privileged to share my life with dogs for most of that time. I am a big believer in the truth that “dogs aren’t my whole life, but they make my life whole.”
My life with diabetes has been fairly uneventful. That is to say, I still have all my appendages, my vision, and my organ function. However, I am not a particularly studious diabetic–I am casual about testing my blood-glucose levels, sometimes delay taking insulin to cover my meals, and don’t rigidly follow a food plan. I am a lively person who has diabetes, not a diabetic who happens to have a life. Perhaps because of my approach to life with diabetes, my Hg A1C results have almost always been higher than my physician would like. Many years ago, I wore an insulin pump for about a year and hated every second with it. Having that device hanging on my body, falling off, and beeping at inappropriate times–not to mention the itching I experienced from the adhesive covering the cannula in my belly (and the fact that my A1C actually rose in that year)–made me feel sorry for myself. Diabetes had never made me feel that way before, and being depressed about my life was not worth the pump. A couple years back, I wore a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device for a week; again, I felt sorry for myself about having this huge roach embedded in my skin. Wearing diabetic “improvement” devices on my body came with too many negative emotional consequences for me.
About five years ago, I started having what I thought were low-blood-glucose events, but when I tested my sugar, I found I was in the upper 200s. A little research with Dr. Google gave me the information that menopause can cause a woman to confuse a hot flash with a low-blood-glucose event. About that same time, I read an article in the Indianapolis Star about your own Dr. Dana Hardin and her work with DADs. I didn’t know there were such things, but I knew I needed to have one.
Alice & Asti
One of the things I learned early on was that any dog with a normal-length nose has the potential to be a DAD. I determined that the breed of my heart, the Keeshond, would be worth the investment in training. After several false starts with DAD trainers, I was blessed to meet Jennifer Cattet of Medical Mutts. Jennifer worked with me to train my very young Keeshond in obedience, public access, and scent work. When Asti turned two, she passed her public access certification exam and had already proven repeatedly that she was “on” the scent of my blood-glucose events. We were a team! She’s three-and-a-half now, and she insists that I be more conscious about my blood-glucose levels, accompanies me everywhere, and gives me the opportunity to share her service with lots of new people every time we go out. My A1C continues to drop and approaches the “normal” range for the first time in years.
Where wearing a CGM made me feel like a depressed cyborg, now I look at my smiling dog and know that she is monitoring my glucose levels with love, not technology. She alerts rising and falling trends in my glucose levels without being an itchy intrusion on my torso. I feel privileged to have my furry friend with me in the office every day, where she can brighten co-workers’ days just by being present while keeping my diabetes in the forefront of her capable nose. I am a goodwill ambassador when I appear with my Asti–people smile when they see us. In general, it’s almost impossible for me to feel depressed when I am with a dog; with my DAD, I am happy and confident that Asti will prevent me from having an extreme glucose event in either direction. Because she is such a happy dog in her own right, she sheds that happiness wherever we go. Life is indeed good, and it is better with my Asti.
Jennifer Cattet Ph.D. is an author, researcher, dog trainer, consultant, and Executive Director of Medical Mutts, a non-profit organization specialized in the training of medical alert dogs for conditions such as seizures, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, etc.