From Hunt Test Retriever to Diabetic Alert Dog, One Dog’s Story
By Wayne Bleazard, AKC Executive Field Representative
Recently while judging a Hunt Test for the Rogue Valley Retriever Club in Medford, Oregon, KC Owens, from Salt Lake City, was notified by the event secretary that her the dog, Fetchin’ Express Bravo Zula RN, SH, NAJ was "acting strangely" in his kennel about 150 yards away. KC offered her thanks, then checked her blood glucose level. Just as she suspected, her level was low, so she took her medication. Bravo settled down as soon as she got her glucose level back to normal, and KC proceeded with her judging assignment as if nothing was unusual.
About three years ago in 2009, Bravo began to act a little differently from normal. He kept indicating to his owner, KC Owens, that he had to go outside to air. When KC tried to let him out the door, he refused to go. So KC closed the door, resumed her work, and again Bravo indicated the need to go out. KC again went to the door with the same results. This happened about two other times, and finally this well-trained Chesapeake Bay retriever jumped up on KC and placed his feet on her shoulders, an action that Bravo knew was absolutely against the rules and that he would get in trouble for doing. As KC attempted to push Bravo’s huge paws off her shoulders, she recognized that her blood glucose was low, and she needed to get her diabetes medication right away.
KC dismissed the entire incident as completely circumstantial. However, the same scenario played out again sometime later and this time she recognized this didn’t appear to be a random occurrence. KC began documenting what was happening and recognized that Bravo had begun to NATURALLY alert her when her blood glucose levels were low. KC, who began training dogs 15 years ago, started researching Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs). This is a fairly new field, and she learned there wasn’t a lot of information available. She found a couple of organizations, Wildrose Diabetic Alert Dogs in Mississippi and Guardian Angel in California. Crystal Cockroft, director of Guardian Angel, took special interest in KC and Bravo, and KC is now on the board of directors and is helping to train more dogs for this special purpose.
Cheveyo , KC’s old Master Hunter, was recently bred with Bravo. When KC whelped the puppies, she immediately began training the little guys with scent from low glucose samples she kept for training purposes. She would put the scent under the puppies’ noses and lead them right to the mother’s nipples. This rigorous scent training was done often so the low glucose scent became associated with food. Five of the six puppies were placed in diabetic homes (KC kept the sixth puppy for herself). Each of the owners has reported much success with the young pups already alerting them to low glucose levels.
Recognizing Bravo’s ability to help her realize her glucose dropping before KC even realized it herself has created a tight-knit bond between the two. Bravo now travels everywhere with KC. He is a Certified Delta Airline therapy dog as well as a service dog and he travels in the cabin when KC flies. KC is an 8 point Hunt Test judge, and judges dock Jumping events throughout the country.
Diabetes is a very serious disease that can affect both young and old. KC is hoping to help victims of this disease with the new field of DADs. "I thank God everyday for Bravo! As much as he loves the dog sports (Hunt Tests, Field Trials, and Dock Jumping), he has stopped what he is doing and alerts me to my problem."
Bravo has been nominated twice for the AKC Ace Award. He is now up for this award again for 2011. We wish KC and Bravo luck in the competition. That would be a nice award to add to his already earned titles of RN (Rally Novice), SH (Senior Hunter), and NAJ (Novice Agility Jumper). He has received a JAM (Judges Award of Merit) in a field trial Qualifying stake, and has dock jumped 23’ 7" and 6’ 10" in extreme vertical jumping. He is truly an extraordinary dog with many talents.
Please see DiabeticAlertDog.com for more information.