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Type 1 diabetes patients get help with blood sugar from scent-detection dogs

August 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than 3 million diabetic kids and adults in the U.S. take insulin to stay alive, but danger comes when blood sugar levels fluctuate from high to low. Either one can be potentially fatal.

Now parents and diabetics themselves are finding the disease easier to manage with some life-changing help from man's best friend.

Service dog trainer and consultant Dee Bogetti feels most comfortable surrounded by dogs.

"It started with my love of dogs and my belief in them. If we can figure out a way to train it, they can do it," she said.

Bogetti trains diabetic alert dogs. They know when blood sugar levels are fluctuating.

"These dogs go to restaurants. They go to movies. They go everywhere their people go," she said.

These scent-detection dogs can smell when blood sugars rise or fall. Normal blood sugar is 70 to 100. During the training, 13-year-old Olivia's dog, Gracie, alerted her to a blood sugar of 200.

Dangerously low blood sugar levels are also a problem. They terrify Olivia's mom Janet Fulton.

"She could die of a low blood sugar during the night. That happens," Fulton said.

In fact, one in 20 Type 1 diabetics will die of a low blood sugar. Stacie Johnson passed out from low blood sugar while alone with her then 2-year-old daughter. Although paramedics saved her life, she got her dog, Grace, a year later.

"She's given me my independence back. She's given me a sense of security I've never known. She's given me the ability to be with my kids and keep them safe," said Johnson.

The dogs cost about $20,000, but the owners say it's a small price to pay.

"If we don't have a cure, we need to have a dog," said Fulton.

It's a sentiment Bogetti hears a lot.

"They give the entire family hope," she said. "And what they do ultimately is they save lives."

Bogetti says when choosing an organization that places diabetic alert dogs, make sure you ask a lot of questions.

Check the contract with an attorney and make sure the dog has a solid health history.

It takes about 18 months before the dogs are fully trained and the cost is not covered by insurance.


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