After 37 years of living with Type 1 Diabetes, I developed hyperglycemia unawareness (being unaware of low blood sugars). Incidents happened due to low blood sugar and these incidents were in the car or with my grandchildren. When this would happen I would test my BG (blood glucose) and it was 36-42, normal being 80-120. I was beginning to fear that my BG would drop rapidly and I would not be able to raise it before something dangerous happened.
At this time I began researching Diabetic Alert Dogs, something I never believed I would need, and even had a hard time believing in. I spoke to organizations in depth regarding their procedures of training, costs and my role with the service dog. I wanted to give up because some mentioned I needed to give up my dogs that I already had and the COST was out of my reach. A friend wouldn’t let me give up and we started asking others about trainers for their dogs, even though the trainers did not train for DADs. In this process I was referred to Retrieving Freedom through a very trusted friend. In, approximately, April 2013 my journey with Ruby began.
I completed the application and shortly after emails and conversations with Charles Dwyer began. He had one dog already in training, a Golden Retriever, but mentioned there would be Lab puppies if I would prefer a Lab. I was not concerned with the breed, just that the dog would alert to low BG. So in May 2013 we started our fund raising with bake sales every Friday at work. I live in a small town and I work for a small community bank and EVERYONE helped! We had several fund raisers which friends, family, co-workers and the community got involved with. My first time to meet Ruby was August 3, 2013 at our final fund raiser which put us over the top to meet our goal! Charles and his assistant, Emillie, drove from Senatobia, Mississippi to help us with the fund raiser and bring Ruby for everyone to meet!
Within the next four months Ruby remained in training with Charles in Mississippi. My husband, Chuck, and I made some trips to train with Ruby and to learn things a handler also needs to understand. Chuck was skeptical of a dog alerting to low BG, as I had been. (He is now her advocate!!) We were fascinated when we watched Charles with Ruby. We learned how to walk, go to dinner, take her to the store and care for a service dog. Life would suddenly become like having a toddler!
As low BG occurred, saliva samples were taken and frozen. Ruby was trained with these samples. The scent was introduced to her and she was taught to paw (alert) when she acknowledged the scent. Ruby had perfected alerting to a low sample that had been frozen. Learning to alert to a live low took a little longer. Although very similar, evidently it’s not the same when training Ruby. Ruby came to me on December 22, 2013. I, again, became skeptical when she didn’t alert. I continued to work with her when I had a low BG. As the days and months passed Ruby began alerting on her own. At about six months of Ruby and I getting to know one another I felt like she was the service dog I needed and wanted. Each day with Ruby was a learning experience, whether it be something about her mannerisms or something she learned on her own about me! A few more months down the line Ruby began alerting at strange levels, I would test and my BG would not be low. Well, here comes the doubt once more. A co-worker suggested writing down what my BG was each time she alerted. We discovered that she learned and alerted to highs on her own. Anything over approximately 220 she would alert. Wow, amazing!
I spend every moment with Ruby. I finally felt comfortable with stares and questions, as well as feeling like she was that toddler that was with me everywhere I went.
As we move forward through each day becoming the best of friends, we create a bond that I’ve learned is more than just a friendship. Ruby begins to alert again at levels that were not high or low. I realize another pattern, one which is actually the most important alert of all. She will alert at any level if there’s a rapid decrease, alerting at 184 to 92. If she alerts at a higher level, I continue to monitor and then reward her when it gets to a level of concern. This generally will happen within 30 minutes of her first alert. At times these are still very dangerous and she helps me by alerting so I can handle the situation.
Her alerts become more intense and I can see the concern in her face. She will continuously paw, then paw harder and stare at me as if speaking to me to FIX IT!
It has now been 2 ½ years since Ruby and I were placed together. We have not only become a handler and service dog team, we have become inseparable friends. We are a GREAT match! She does her job at alerting and shows concern when things are more serious. We are never away from each other so she becomes vocal if she cannot see me. She is very affectionate yet doesn’t always want me to kiss her! She loves to play with her baby and constantly squeeze the squeekies in the baby! Ruby loves to run and play fetch but you know she’s done when she doesn’t bring back the bumper and stays under the trampoline!
Ruby’s my service dog, my friend, my life saver. Her love is unconditional. We’ve overcome and learned how to carefully handle the stares, the questions and the undesirable words or looks. We have decided to be a team to spread awareness of service dogs and diabetes.
Natali Young and Ruby Roo