This is part 4 of Judah’s Journey: Living Love
Judah and I have been connected since the first day I brought him home. He has trusted me in every situation he’s been in and I trust that he will always respond to me the way he should. He was with me through a terrible broken heart, job changes, moving (and being homeless for a short time), new love and everything in between. I always said that I love him more than anything but we didn’t have the closeness that I had experienced with my childhood dog, a big chocolate lab named Dakota. Well little did I know that Judah had just been waiting for his opportunity to prove his devotion to me above all others. Oh boy did he.
Here is where my diagnosis story should be inserted. (See my first post “Hello World” for my Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis story) After getting out of the hospital and going threw a lot of education and doctors appointments I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. This is a lot to take in for everyone it happens to, I was lost and scared to be honest. I had found part time employment at the local grocery store, I had worked there throughout my college years and my old boss was glad to take me on again. I certainly wasn’t my dream job but we were struggling to live on a single income, especially through the cold winter months. I can’t remember when exactly it started but about four months or so after diagnosis my glucose levels finally started to even out. I was having fewer and less extreme spikes (though I was still struggling) and learning what it took to keep some semblance of control. It was like the light was finally coming back. Finally it was like I was getting some control back.
One very early morning I was woken up by Judah laying down on my chest. He put his face right in mine and started pushing his head down on me until I got up out of bed. This is a dog who doesn’t like to sleep on the bed (he doesn’t like sharing body heat it makes him too warm) and who certainly doesn’t jump up without being invited. So I thought he was sick, I got up and went to the front door to let him out, he wouldn’t go. This is another odd behavior for Judah, he always wants to go out, no matter the time or weather. I invited him out, told him to go out, and even tried to coax him with a promise of play, nothing. He just stood in the doorway looking at me. Judah is very expressive, you can see his mind working right on his face, he’s always been like that. He looked confused and stressed, I didn’t get it. I offered him water and food, still nothing. So I gave up and went back to bed, I mean it was 4 AM! Judah spent the rest of the morning in bed laying on my legs staring at me.
This pattern continued for two weeks, nearly every morning around 4 AM Judah would jump up on the bed and demand that I wake up. When it got to the point that I was ready to lock him out of the bed room at night so I could sleep a whole night through. One of these mornings Marshall looked at me and said, “Why don’t you check your sugar? I just don’t know what else his problem could be.” I laughed. I mean come on, I knew that there were alert dogs out there for diabetics but that’s with loads of training, right? Well I checked and I won’t ever forget it, 275 mg/dl- whoa.
Could this really be happening? Is he really that smart? No way. Well next morning, same thing, he wakes me up and I check, really high. Well this springs me into action, time for some research!
I of course went to the trusty old internet. Here I learned all about diabetic alert dog programs across the country and how their dogs save peoples lives, it’s beautiful and inspirational the bonds these teams share. Then I found a youtube video about a lady in England who’s yorkie was alerting her to severe drops in blood sugar before her monitor could even pick them up. This little yorkie had no formal training to be able to do this, he just knew something was wrong. Alright! So I’m not crazy, or at least this isn’t what qualifies me as crazy. I continued my research and tried to reach out to people who could help me understand this more. The research went on for a long time before I finally got a response from someone, a lady (who wishes to remain unnamed) that said she would give me a crash course in the scent training portion of this training. She explained to me that the public access part of training a service dog is the most time consuming part and that the scent training was similar to most scent training. (Please keep in mind, she only agreed to help after lots of e-mails back and forth confirming that I was in fact disabled, that my dog was in fact trained and socialized and that I was capable of taking on this project. She did not offer up this information to just anyone who came calling, I explained that I was an uninsured diabetic with experience training dogs and a good head on my shoulders.)
Judah and I had done some scent training when he was younger because I intended to train him for search and rescue, so the principal wasn’t new to him. Now instead of teaching basic scent discrimination I would train him to look for one specific scent all the time. I was a process and as we went through it I learned that Judah was way ahead of me on the learning curve. Our knew favorite phrase in the house became “stupid human” because Judah would alert and I wouldn’t realize what he was doing (yes he was doing it right, I was just clueless). He picked up the scent training within the first few training sessions, before I knew it he was alerting on the regular, it was amazing. I then returned to my work at the resort working on the recreation program as the assistant director, it was time to put Judah to work. I knew this was the perfect setting for him to learn in because he was familiar with the place and all the staff we would be dealing with. Plus auntie Beth worked with us!
The truth is that Judah isn’t the one that needed to be trained in this situation. He has always understood that when I’m working he is supposed to hang out, the only difference now was that he had his own job to do while hanging out. He was a pro from day one, though I did find that when we first started the scent training he became more sensitive to strong odors for a while. He would react strangely to freshly applied sunscreen and things of that nature. After a short time he moved passed that and began to realize that these were not the things he needed to put his nose to work on. The real ones that needed training were me and my co-workers. Most of these people had known Judah for most of his life and it was hard for them to see him as a working dog. It was a change in relationship that everyone had to get used to, including me and Beth. I think it was harder for her than anyone, she was he second mom and it was hard for her to see him as a tool while he was working. After some time everyone fell into stride and realized how important Judah’s job was to me.
Well needless to say Judah has proven his ability to take care of me. He now alerts to both high and low blood sugars and can catch fluctuations before they even register on my meter. There are times when he alerts and my meter reads that I am perfect so I think he’s wrong, then in fifteen minutes he’ll alert again and I will have dropped or spiked to an extreme. It has taken some time for me to realize that I can trust him, and that he is right. It still amazes me every time he does it, which is everyday (with very few exceptions). He will retrieve my “kit” which holds my testing supplies and insulin and he knows how to get me juice from my purse if he has to. He is extremely persistent, and will not take no for an answer. I he tells me to check and I don’t he will continue to harass me or even begin to alert the people around me (which can be awkward if I don’t know them). He has also gone so far as to force treatment upon me.
One day while my co-workers and I were setting up the climbing wall in preparation for the scheduled activity Judah alerted to a low blood sugar. I checked and he was right (of course) and in the process of praising him Beth asked me a question. I walked off to answer her question completely spaced that I needed to correct the low glucose. Well Judah got up from his “place” and tried to come over to me again, I sassed him and sent him back to his place. He followed my command and as soon as his belly hit the ground he was back up and coming over again. Well again I corrected him, sending him back to his place. After several of these interactions he got up again and ignored my command to go lay down. He proceeded to rummage through my bag until he found my juice bottle. He pulled it out, brought it over, dropped it at my feet and before I even realized what happened he was back on his place with his eyes closed. Well even Beth was shocked and proud of our little man! I have heard this process called “intelligent disobedience”, meaning that they intentionally disobey you to do their job. I was told that this is the hardest thing to train into them. Well as soon as Judah realized what his new job was he had that from day one (he has been waiting his whole life to be right all the time!)
People often ask if he will alert to other people’s glucose levels. The answer is he has. The first time was right when he first started working with me and it wasn’t a clear alert but he was clearly distressed. We went to the “main office” to check in on a schedule change and visit with the office ladies, and there was only one lady working at the time. She was also a diabetic and we often spoke about our health and disease together. I gave permission for Judah to go and greet her (we say “go visit” for his social release command, he knows he is still working but will interact with people actively) and he sat down in front of her and just stared. I made an observation about how strange he was being a few minutes later and she laughed. She told me her sugar had been high all day and asked if perhaps he was alerting to her, at the time I wasn’t sure but now looking back on how his alerting has evolved I would say with confidence that he was. The other time I have had Judah alert was in a Wal Mart standing in line at the pharmacy. I was in line behind a old lady who asked me about Judah, she was kind and respectful of not distracting him so I explained what he does and how he came to be my SD. While we were having our conversation Judah kept getting up (he was in a down stay) and trying to walk behind me in line. After correcting him repeatedly he began to show me obvious signs of being stressed. I asked “What is it?” (our signal for him to distinguish between a high or low) and he tried to get up and walk away again. After voicing my surprise at his behavior a woman from behind me in line came around to my side. She said, “I’m sorry but I overheard you explaining what your dog does to that lady and I think I know why he was getting up. My daughter is diabetic and she just had a hypoglycemic attack.” I looked back at her place in line and in her cart was a tiny little girl. I couldn’t believe that, really? “Well, good low Judah. Good boy!” Now this is what he was looking for! He wagged his tail and then settled back into his spot. The lady smiled and said, “He’s amazing.” All I could reply was, “He’s a special boy.” And he is!
Judah and I finally found our connection, he couldn’t give it to me before because he wasn’t getting what he needed. He needed a job, not that he wasn’t happy, he was, but he wasn’t fulfilled the way he is now. When I tell people his story now I always say that “The worst thing that ever happened to me was the best thing that ever happened to my dog” and it’s true. It isn’t that we weren’t connected before, but he needed the right way to prove it to me. He found it on his own, and he knew it before I did. I met a lady recently who after I told her about Judah told me that her sister had died due to a hypoglycemic seizure. She got a little teary eyed and looked up at me while petting Judah and said, “He saves your life a little everyday, that’s really special.” I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when she said that, he does save my life a little everyday, but he did that before I was diagnosed. He is a very special boy and everyday he reminds us of that.
Judah didn’t just give me my independence back, he gave Marshall his independence back too. We live out in the middle of no where, Marshall was always worried that something would happen and no one could get to me in time. With Judah he doesn’t have to worry, someone is watching me, and making sure that I am taking care of myself. Because I have unawareness I most often don’t feel symptoms of changes in my glucose and this is what gets me into trouble. With Judah I know before I would even if I did feel the symptoms. He is my life saver, my best friend, my independence, my pancreas, my living love. He’s my special guy.