Living Diabetter with Blaze
A few months ago, my cousin Kelsie told me about a girl named Katherine who goes to Orange Theory and she brings her dog with her. It’s not just any dog, it’s a service dog named Blaze who is specifically trained to detect when she has dangerously low blood sugar levels. Katherine has type one diabetes.
If y’all have been following me for awhile, you know I have a friend named Amshi who has type one diabetes and she blogs about it over on Living Diabetter.
I thought how interesting it would be to have Amshi ask Katherine/Blaze questions about diabetes… Amshi suggested it for National Diabetes Month so here we are! Let’s learn a bit more about diabetes and service dogs!
When were you diagnosed with type one diabetes?
February 10, 2001. I was nine years old. My dad came home from Germany and thought I was anorexic because I had lost so much weight from a week before. I was eating but I was drinking so much and going to the bathroom a lot so he thought I was purging.
What made you think about getting a diabetic service dog?
I was having 3-6 grand mal seizures a month due to low blood sugars. I was using a CGM (dexcom) at the time but it wasn’t catching the fast drops. I’m not able to feel my lows (hypoglycemia unawareness) and I wouldn’t wake up to alarms. If I did, I would stand up to get a juice and then wake up on the floor after a seizure.
Does insurance cover service dogs?
Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover service dogs. It’s all out of pocket.
What’s the training process like?
Blaze arrived in Idaho to Lily with Lily Grace Service Dogs when he was 10 weeks old and that’s when his training started. The training was a mix of public access training and scent training. Lily shipped me mini mason jars that were labeled with different ranges. Below 50, 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-150 (normal), 150-160 and all the way to above 400. Anytime I checked by blood sugar I would suck on a cotton swab and spit it in the corresponding jar. Once all the jars were filled, I shipped them overnight to Lily and she thawed them out and trained Blaze to recognize what is normal, low and high. First, she trained him to tap his nose to the tin, then went from nose to paw then went to alerting the person.
How does Blaze know the signs of high and low blood sugars?
He doesn’t know the signs but he knows the scent that is given off whenever a diabetic is high or low.
Do you have a CGM and/or insulin pump that coincide with Blaze’s efforts?
I use the Tandem X2 and Dexcom G6. We all know technology isn’t accurate 100% of the time and I have Blaze who alerts before Dexcom even picks up on it.
What are some misconceptions with having a diabetic service dog?
That because I have a service dog my blood sugars are perfect. Which isn’t true for anyone. The only person with a straight line is a dead person 😉 also another misconception is that because I have a service dog I won’t have any low or high emergencies which isn’t true. Blaze can tell me when something is wrong but he can’t stop my blood sugar from raising or dropping. Since being placed with Blaze, I have only had three seizures in almost two years! Which is a huge difference than having 3-6 a month. I also went into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) for the first time in 19 years while I had Blaze. I had pneumonia on and off for months then throw in a bent insulin pump cannula and you have DKA. He stayed with me the whole hospitalization and only left my side when someone took him outside or I was getting chest x-rays and CT scans. The nurses were great with him.
Do you recommend all diabetics have a service dog?
I actually do not. Just like an insulin pump is not for everybody, a service dog isn’t for everyone either. People think “OMG how cool you get to take your dog everywhere!” FALSE. Although, yes it’s awesome he gets to do so much with me and he doesn’t have to stay at home by himself, he is a working dog with a job. People will always try to pet him and when I tell them no they will talk to him and say “I can’t pet you but you’re so cute!” which is just as bad as petting. Anything that will distract Blaze will increase the likelihood that he will miss an alert which puts me in danger.
People don’t see my disease so they assume Blaze is an emotional support dog or therapy dog (both of which are NOT protected under the ADA and do not have the same rights as service dogs) sometimes I ask people, “Would you talk to or pet a guide dog with a blind handler?” it’s literally the same thing. Blaze has a specific job just like a guide dog and I wish people could read the vest that says Do Not Pet, I’m Working. You can’t be shy if you have a service dog, people are going to question you all the time, “Why do you have a dog” or “What are you training it for?” even though the dog is trained and yours.
I never talked about my diabetes before I had Blaze but once I was paired with him I can’t hide the disease anymore. I actually educate people and speak at conferences around Michigan and surrounding states. People should understand that this is a job for the handler too! You don’t just get a trained dog and that’s it. You have to continuously keep up on the training meaning collecting saliva samples on your own and practicing and going to public places to practice public access skills. Dogs are like humans; if you don’t use it you lose it.
Share the story of when you and Blaze met for the first time.
The first time I met Blaze and Lily in person was when I went to get placed with him and bring him home. I remember on the flight to Idaho, I was having such anxiety thinking, “This is fake, I just wasted all of my money, this dog isn’t going to do anything for me.” Boy was I wrong. I was standing in the hotel lobby waiting for them and I saw Lily walk in with this cute little six month old fluffy dog and it was truly love at first sight. THEN right when they came up to me, I gave Lily a hug and Blaze ALERTED!!! I checked and I was high. I started tearing up thinking this is the best thing that diabetes has ever given me.
How do you manage the highs and lows of your life while keeping a positive outlook on life?
Honestly, it’s so easy to get burnt out especially because diabetes is a 24/7 disease that needs attention literally 24/7 with no breaks. I’m not going to lie and say I’m positive all the time because I’m not. I get depressed and frustrated just like everyone else. I am lucky that I not only have Blaze to literally pull me through the tough times but I have an amazing boyfriend who lets me lean on him and vent to him even though he may not understand first hand what I’m saying. He definitely knows how to comfort me and help me keep going. Believe it or not, social media has helped a ton too! I get to connect with people who know EXACTLY what I’m going through and it’s a great feeling to know I’m not the only one battling this.
Do you get to choose your own dog?
I did not. Lily chose Blaze and actually named him. Goldendoodles are fantastic dogs because they’re hypoallergenic, quick learners, love to work and if I were to pass out, Blaze wouldn’t like being pulled away from me while people helped me but he wouldn’t be aggressive or “too protective” to the point where no one could help me.
Do you have to feed Blaze any specific foods? Any particular diet?
He gets lots of treats when he alerts. He is positively reinforced so whenever he alerts he gets a treat and if I don’t give him a treat right away he will jump up on me or pull my clothes which is great when he wakes me up in the middle of the night to alert. As far as food, I work with his trainer and his vet to find the food that works best for him and his active lifestyle.
I was curious what treats she feeds Blaze and she feeds Nature’s Variety RawBoost Mixers! They’re grain-free, all natural, freeze-dried raw and has real chicken!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with those who are uneducated about type one diabetes?
It’s much more demanding than people think. It’s not just about food, we don’t only think about it when we eat it’s literally a 24/7 disease and there is NO CURE. There’s no diet, supplement, pill or anything that will fix it.
Katherine also wanted to add the following:
I hear a lot from people, “Aw, I feel so bad for him, no one can pet him and he’s always working.” Blaze is living the best life a dog can have. He enjoys working and while peoples family pets are at home while humans are working, Blaze is always with me. He gets to go to nursing school with me at University of Detroit Mercy and he wears shoes and goggles during lab. He goes to work with me which means extra walks since we work across the street from the Detroit River. He LOVES to go paddleboarding with me in the summer. We have a 12 foot YOLO paddle board made specifically for dogs. He is so happy when we are on the lake. He goes to cider mills, grocery shopping (not a fan, he thinks I take too long and ends up laying on the floor while I contemplate which soup to get).
Whenever I do have busy days, we stop by Starbucks and he gets a puppuccino (a short cup of whipped cream) and he’s even the Dog of Honor in my sisters wedding next summer. He saves my life everyday and the least I can do is spoil the crap out of him! 😊