For most families a new dog is an exciting time, but what if that new dog could save your child’s life? For Lori and Charles Knowles the introduction of a new dog into their family has already shown that their new dog will help care for their daughter, Charlie.
Charlie Knowles has juvenile diabetes and experiences very high and very low blood sugar readings. Her care is constant and the entire family is involved including Charlie and her sister Lizzie.
This past week has been very tiring, exciting and eye opening for the family as Charlie received her diabetic alert dog, who she has named Coco.
Coco is a chocolate lab and is just three months old. The dog is not a pet, but a service dog.
Trainers from Guardian Angel Service Dogs is a service provided through Warren Retrievers out of Culpepper, Va., which has developed a program for training dogs to recognize fluctuations in the blood sugar levels of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics. These dogs are trained to “alert,” or tell the diabetic or a family member, that the diabetic’s blood sugar is going low or high.
From the Guardian Angel Service Dogs, Inc. website, the service is a fully incorporated 501 (c) (3) organization whose mission is to provide education and raise awareness about the role of service dogs and the different types of assistance they may provide to persons with invisible health issues such as Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, Seizure Disorders, Hypoglycemic Unawareness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and some spectrum disorders such as Aspergers or Autism.
Two trainers that delivered the dog and taught Charlie and her family how to continue Coco’s training and learn how to use her as an assistant to Charlie’s care.
“It is important for the public to know that people whose lives might be improved or even saved by having a service dog, may have a disability that is not visible. Individuals who struggle with invisible disabilities often will benefit from having a canine companion in their lives to enhance quality of life, provide hope, independence and peace of mind,” stated Cheri Campbell, senior trainer.
Guardian Angel Service Dogs, Inc. helps families find local resources to help offset the costs associated with the purchase and training of a service dog. In addition, Guardian Angel Service Dogs, Inc. will host fund raising and community programs to help spread awareness and grow our programs, thereby reaching more families and providing increased access to our services. Charlie has held numerous fund raising events to help her to begin paying for Coco.
Trainer Dana McGuire explained that the cost varies for the different conditions the dog is providing service for and the various amounts of training needed for the dog and the family.
Lori shared that the week has been eye opening because so many people are unaware that service dogs exist and that they are allowed into any public access building by law.
“We have had a few issues this week during our training. On a visit to a local restaurant we were rudely told that dogs could not be in the restaurant. When Dana explained that Coco was not a pet but a service dog and could be in the restaurant the employee became very rude and coped an attitude with us. The scene was uncomfortable for us and especially for Charlie,” asserted Charlie’s mom.
On other visits around town the reception was better, but Lori explained she did not realize how people could be so cruel or mean.
“We were asked if Coco was a pet or a service dog when we went to other places and when we said she was a service dog they allowed us in without incident. But the public was not as accepting. People were whispering and pointing so even displayed displeasure at Coco being there. I think if a person has a visible disability a service dog is accepted better. But when someone has an invisible disease such as diabetes they don’t understand that a service dog can truly be a life saver for that person,” remarked Lori. “I hope people will become aware that there are numerous types of service dogs available and the reason someone has one is not always visible. Hopefully we will be able to help educate people of the importance of service dogs,” added Charlie’s mother.
Even though Coco is three months old she is already alerting the Knowles to Charlie’s blood level changes.
Campbell explained that Coco is trained to smell the changes in the blood levels.
“High levels produce a sweet smell and Coco can detect the change before we can smell or even before a meter would detect the change. Low blood sugars are more acidic is smell and Coco can detect it,” explained the senior trainer.
Guardian Angels is unusual in that they utilize puppies for training. The trainers shared that by using puppies the dog will bond easier with the person they will be serving and are able to become assimilated into the family better.
Once fully trained, which takes about two years, Coco will be able not only to alert Charlie and her family, she will be able to dial 911, get the meter, and get juice or other items Charlie could need to keep from extremely high or low blood sugars.
“Coco will not be the only resource for us to monitor Charlie’s levels but she will assist greatly,” remarked Lori. “By being alerted early we will be able to act before the levels get so high or low that Charlie experiences damage to her heart, kidneys and other organs. She will be better equipped to cope with her condition and have a healthier life because she will be able to regulate her sugars before they get out of whack and even eliminate stays in the hospital.”
Trainers will be returning throughout the two-year training period to provide additional training for Charlie and her family. Campbell explained that as Coco grows and matures she can be introduced to new things and as the trust builds between the dog and Charlie what Coco can do will increase.
Charlie is a typical 11-year-old young lady and does not talk a lot but is very talented in many areas including art and considers herself creative. She shared that she is very excited to get Coco and has already fallen in love with her.
“I am excited. It has been a very tiring week but I am glad to have Coco to help me with my condition,” said Charlie.
Her mother explains that Charlie is having to learn to accept people coming up to her and Coco. But the public does need to learn that Coco is a service dog and not just a pet.
“It bothers me when people come up to pet Coco. I have to say something like ‘Excuse me, she is a service dog and she is working right now. If you give me a moment I will have her sit or lay down and you can pet her.’ People need to understand that a service dog is not a pet but is a trained animal to help other people,” stated Charlie.
Charlie has already set out on one of her goals … raising service animal awareness.
“Charlie has decided to help people learn about service animals and raise the awareness in public,” explained Lori.
As part of her training this week, Charlie visited a local childcare and introduced Coco to each child. She explained that Coco was a service dog and was able to help people with different conditions such as diabetes. Coco had to sit in front of each child before the child could pet her. Charlie shared she is learning a lot and is hoping others will learn to understand service dogs too. Of course Coco loves the attention as well.
“There are many people that need a service dog,” explained Charles Ray. “Through Warren Retrievers and Guardian Angel Service Dogs, Inc. people can make donations to help people pay for their dog. If someone would like to help Charlie pay for Coco or someone else they can do so through their website. There is also a lot of interesting and valuable information about the work they do on their website. I encourage everyone to read about the work they do.”
Those websites are www.diabetesalertdogs.com, www.WarrenRetrievers.com and www.GuardianAngelServiceDogs.org.
Charlie has her own website where she also raises fund for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. To check it out, visit www.charliesdoor.com.
Charlie and her family hope as the people in Clinton and surrounding areas see her with Coco, they will understand she is a service dog and has to be with her. For a better understanding regarding the service animal law visit www.ada.gov and search for service animal.