No ordinary dog for them

Specially trained diabetic-sniffing animal to help 3-year-old

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald 
Emily Archuleta is trying to raise money to purchase a dog that will alert her to changes in her daughter’s blood sugar levels. Aubreana, 3, has diabetes. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald Emily Archuleta is trying to raise money to purchase a dog that will alert her to changes in her daughter’s blood sugar levels. Aubreana, 3, has diabetes.

Emily Archuleta got a crash course in diabetes last October when daughter Aubreana, 3, was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Denver because of extremely high blood sugar.

As soon as Aubreana was stabilized, Archuleta made a visit to the Barbara Davis Juvenile Diabetic Center. “I learned to check her blood glucose, give her shots of insulin and to recognize symptoms – something I had been oblivious to.”

Now, Archuleta has Aubreana on a waiting list for a service dog that can alert caregivers to potentially dangerous fluctuations in her blood sugar level before they happen.

The dog should relieve Archuleta of rousing herself every two hours during the night to check on Aubreana.

When a person with diabetes suffers an extreme rise or drop in blood sugar, the end product of a chemical process in the body is urea, which is released in urine, sweat and breath.

The scent, which is universal, is beyond human range. But the sensitive olfactory sense of a diabetes-alert dog can detect it and alert a caregiver up to a half-hour before the onset of a crisis.

Archuleta, a single mother with two other children, ages 11 and 5, has put down $1,000 as earnest money with Virginia-based Guardian Angel Service Dogs to get Aubreana on a waiting list.

When the dog is delivered, Archuleta will have two years to raise the rest of the $19,000 cost of the dog.

Other companies

Several organizations in the country train diabetes-alert dogs. Training methods, business practices and the cost of dogs vary.

No one from Guardian Angel Service Dogs in Orange, Va., the company that is providing Aubreana’s dog, returned a request for information.

A person who answered the phone at Alert Service Dogs Inc., a company based in Indiana that also has diabetes dogs, cut an interview short.

“We don’t talk about dogs unless they’re ours,” she said. “We (dog providers) have different philosophies and approaches.”

Lily Grace at the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, another diabetes dog company, in Cottonwood, Calif., has no waiting list.

“As soon as I get a request, I get a trainer,” Grace said. “It takes four months to train a dog. The trainer delivers the dog and spends two days with the patient or the family for orientation.”

Some diabetes dogs are trained to rouse the caregiver. Grace trains dogs to paw the person it’s charged to watch over. Grace said she also donates 10 percent of her dogs each year to people in need of a dog, but who can’t afford one.

Grace asks for 20 percent down and the remainder of $15,000 upon delivery.

Susan Millhollon is the manager of Dogs4Diabetics in Concord, Calif.

Dogs4Diabetics, a nonprofit organization that operates through volunteers, doesn’t charge for a dog. The only charge is an administrative fee of less than $200. But the organization doesn’t take on anyone younger than 12 and it only serves patients in California.

Dogs4Diabetics was founded by Mark Rufenacht, a Type 1 diabetic who was instrumental in developing diabetes scent detection, Millhollin said.

The organization is funded through foundations, private donations and grants.

Aubreana’s dog

Aubreana is scheduled to get a 6-month-old Labrador retriever that has been evaluated for temperament and trained to recognize scents, Archuleta said.

The trainer will deliver the dog and spend two weeks in Durango introducing the dog and patient and taking them to markets and other places where dogs usually aren’t allowed.

The trainer will return every three months until the dog is 2 years old to fine-tune the relationship, Archuleta said.

Twenty-six million Americans are believed to have diabetes – 19 million of them diagnosed cases.

Aubreana is insulin-dependent, Archuleta said. She’ll need to visit the Barbara Davis Juvenile Diabetes Center periodically.

Aubreana needs a snack every hour to 90 minutes to keep blood sugar up. She must test her blood sugar 12 times a day and take four shots of insulin every 24 hours.

Marge Morris, the diabetes program coordinator at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said a canine diabetes sentinel could be a lifesaver.

“They’re widely used,” Morris said. “There was one tried (in Durango), but it didn’t work out.”

Morris has about 30 patients who use a continuous glucose monitor. The monitor, inserted in fatty tissue, usually in the abdomen, issues a reading every five minutes.

The monitors have to be changed every few days, Morris said.

daler@durangoherald.com

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald 
Aubreana Gonzales, 3, was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Denver last year when her blood sugar reached a critical level. Her mother, Emily Archuleta, constantly checks the level. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald Aubreana Gonzales, 3, was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Denver last year when her blood sugar reached a critical level. Her mother, Emily Archuleta, constantly checks the level.