Two of my very favorite people in the world happen to adore dogs. James is one of them. The other is my dad. When Dad’s dog Ginger passed away a little over two years ago, he immediately felt the void. My dad tried to be very deliberate in choosing a successor. He knew he wanted a dog, but WHO would be that special one to succeed his beloved golden retriever?
For a time, he strongly considered getting a puppy and training it as a diabetes alert dog. This is a special and rather amazing category of dogs. Although there is a fair amount of debate, we know of a few families through the diabetes online community that have these dogs to help their children, and by their accounts, they seem remarkable. Reportedly, these dogs are able to sense low and high blood sugars in people with diabetes. They have been specially trained to give a signal to the owner or even bring a juice box and testing kit so that the blood sugar can be treated.
It actually brings tears to my eyes to think about. The thought of my dog-loving James having a best friend that he could take everywhere and that may actually save his life? Amazing! I still wonder if there is some time in the future when we can make that a reality. But thinking about our family—ALL of our family and our needs—we realized that this really isn’t the time for that particular dream to come about.
There are a couple of factors in that decision but two big ones. First, I’m a mom of four. And I’m tired and overwhelmed OFTEN. And a dog, even an amazing, well-trained, hardworking, wonderful dog is a lot of work. All dogs deserve time and attention, and an animal that is literally “on” for 24 hours a day following James’ blood sugar would deserve the best existence an animal can have. I’m sad to say that I’m not entirely sure I could provide that right now!
The other BIG reason why we aren’t really going for a diabetes alert dog (DAD) right now? We happen to have amazing success with our continuous glucose monitor (CGM)—to the extent that I can see James’ blood sugar in real time, all the time, and pretty reliably. This hasn’t always been the case! My stress levels have decreased remarkably since this fabulous technology has been introduced (and improved), and I feel like I have that “safety net” that before I thought only a diabetes alert dog could fulfill. I’m definitely not saying we’ll never ever have a DAD. But Grandpa wants a dog right now, so what do you do?
Well it turns out, Grandpa found a dog. A wonderful, white British golden retriever. The family who owned him loved him, but they’re experiencing some major life events that meant they couldn’t keep up with his care. Cue my dad, who waltzed in just to watch this beautiful pup when the family was out of town or away for the day.
The love between my dad and that beautiful dog was instant. And the heartsick couple felt a little better. The only person who loved that dog more than them and my dad was James—who spent hours cuddling him, stroking him, walking him, playing fetch, and laughing. When the family realized that their dog Bear would have a young boy to play with, they made the decision to offer him permanently to my dad, who gladly accepted.
My dad then came over to our house with Bear. He took James aside and told him that Bear could be HIS dog. Bear would live at Grandpa’s house, but James could take part in his training and visit him whenever he wanted. I think we all cried.
So James doesn’t have a diabetes alert dog right now. That’s a dream for the future. But he does have his very own BFF, and I don’t think he could be any happier about it!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.