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PostHeaderIcon Early Alert Canines: Diabetic's Best Friend

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From its inception in the spring of 2010, innovator and program director, Carol Edwards projected a mission for Early Alert Canines, (EAC)  the Concord based, incorporated non-profit organization, “to improve the health, safety and well-being of insulin-dependent diabetics through partnerships with certified low blood sugar alert dogs”, free of charge!  EAC is one of only a few centers who train dogs for juveniles at least 12 years old and adult diabetics of all ages.

There are serious risks when a normal blood sugar level of a Type I Diabetic takes an unsuspected sudden decline and is not detected and corrected within a brief time.  Because the service dog has been thoroughly trained to react to the diabetic’s shift in blood sugar level in any given situation, even during the hours of sleep in the night, an Early Alert Canine has earned the reputation as a Diabetic’s Best Friend.

The young dogs, ranging in age from 18 to 24 months old, are received through Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence. Several phases of training, over months, begin with presentation of scent samples and teaching the alert technique to the dog.

A phase of 4 to 6 months of transitional training follows, living in home with a diabetic, then returning at night to their volunteer foster home.  Mostly of the labrador and golden retriever breeds, “their life-saving responsibilities will be scent-oriented”, reports staff Registered Nurse, Hilary Freeman.  Their incredible sense of smell and their desire to be people-pleasing in a well behaved manner, afford these intensely trained service dogs the skills to perform a highly specialized function, motivation to initiate the alerting action.  “A diabetic alert dog is trained to recognize the biochemical scent that a diabetic’s body emits as the blood glucose begins to drop”, she adds.

EAC trains full-access service dogs and skilled companion dogs, and while both are “fully trained in medical alerting, companion dogs are not granted the same public access rights as service dogs," according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Skilled companion dogs are available to families of underage (less than 12 years old) children with diabetes, who have not yet reached a level to independently handle a service dog in public venues, and others who require the alert skilled companion dog only within the home setting.

With each placement situation, an intense team training period is initiated by staff from EAC to assist in forming a bond with the partners.  One week is provided for a skilled companion dog, working mainly in the home, and a 2-week period of Team Training takes place for a Full Service canine. Subsequently, periodic post-placement follow up continues, to evaluate and ensure success in the partnership.

Eligibility to receive an Early Alert Canine is based upon a process, which includes an application with a fee of  $100, an interview and a home visit to determine needs of the client, who must be insulin-dependent for a period of at least  one year and compliant in attempting to manage the diabetes. Full-access service dogs are reported to reach near 100 percent accuracy in alerting the diabetic client, after partnership of just a few months.

What type of canine would be suitable as an early alert dog? Some defining terms appear in their description:  career-trained, responsible work ethic, socially adapted, high intelligence, even temperament, life saver and life changer.  Certainly these are a tribute befitting the most loyal and coveted best friend!

Training Supervisor, Maureen Lynch Vashel has an extensive history of caring for and bonding with wagging tails, from a childhood 4-H puppy trainer to a licensed instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind, to years as a consultant at Diablo Doggies, and on to Early Alert Canines, where she shares her enthusiasm of spreading good will day after day.  Other staff members include a registered nurse and a research assistant in pediatric endocrinology.

As a non-profit organization, funding is generated through grants, donations, fund-raisers and the help of volunteer assistants, who can serve in many positions.  Foster homes are also in need.  For further information, contact:  www.earlyalertcanines.org or call:  925.349.5190.

Karen Balch is a retired registered nurse, freelance writer and avid dog lover. She writes regularly for All News No Blues.

Last Updated (Monday, 14 October 2013 22:04)


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