By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Service dogs can detect diabetics in danger

Rob Varela /Ventura County Star: Jennifer Mueller, center, walks in Marina Park in Ventura with her parents Kristy and Don Schadt and their dogs Nicholas and Patches to check out a possible route for their upcoming doggie-thon fundraiser on June 29.

Sunday, June 8, 2008/
Ventura County Star

Struggling for 18 years with type 1 diabetes, Jennifer Mueller has inspired a benefit to support Heaven Scent Paws, a nonprofit that trains dogs to know when their owners' blood sugar is ready to drop — a life-saving skill that even the most sophisticated monitors cannot detect.

"Many type 1 diabetics have severe complications and difficulty managing their diabetes from the beginning of their diagnosis," said Mueller, 33, of Oak View. "Diabetic service dogs can help us manage our diabetes significantly."

For Mueller and others with type 1 diabetes, managing the disease is a full-time job.

"When my diabetes is uncontrolled, it's a horrible feeling of powerlessness and frustration," she said. "I feel scared that I might die or have an episode in public."

Diagnosed with it at 15, she said she believes that having a service dog will help her manage the disease much better.

"Since I have hypoglycemia unawareness, a service dog can help me significantly with that; the dogs can smell the change in your body well before your blood sugars begin to drop and then alert me," Mueller said.

"I will be able to sleep at night without the fear of not waking up," she said. "This dog will help me regain confidence that I can go about my life as normally as possible again, with the assistance of a wonderful animal who can help me manage my diabetes when my body can't."

With that, Mueller and her family are spearheading two benefits to raise money for Heaven Scent Paws Inc., a group that raises and trains canines to become service dogs for people with type 1 diabetes. The goal: $7,500.

"Individuals are not charged for the dog," said Michele Reinkemeyer, founder and executive director of Heaven Scent Paws. "We realize families do not often have these funds. Instead, we ask that each family raise approximately $7,500.

"This partnership helps us continue the program while allowing Heaven Scent Paws to do more training rather than spending countless man-hours fundraising," she said. "It also allows families this option without hurting them financially."

For Mueller and most people with type 1 diabetes, living with the disease is a matter of finding the right insulin doses, counting all carbohydrates correctly, getting on a strict schedule and remembering to give shots, said her mom, Kristy Schadt of Simi Valley.

About the disease

Type 1 diabetes — also known as juvenile diabetes — can occur at any age, but most commonly is diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s.

In this type of diabetes, a person's pancreas produces little or no insulin. Although the causes are not entirely known, scientists believe that the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with this type of diabetes must inject insulin daily. Without insulin, the glucose builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar — or hyperglycemia.

"For some diabetics, it is much more difficult to keep their blood sugar levels in a safe range," said Schadt, a licensed marriage and family therapist and director of counseling for the Free Clinic of Simi Valley.

"Even now, with her insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitoring system, she is still having a lot of dangerous high and low numbers," her mother said. "She is still very unstable."

Every time her blood sugar is too high, there is a risk of long-term damage — organ failure, limb loss, blindness or the risk of seizures or coma.

A service dog can tell when its owner's blood sugar level is approaching dangerously low or high levels; this often means that the owner regains independence and a greater sense of security, said Reinkemeyer, adding that there is a huge demand for these particular canines.

Not for everyone

Once Mueller raises $7,500, she must attend a three-week training class at the Heaven Scent Paws headquarters in Missouri before she receives a diabetes alert service dog, which she keeps for the life of the animal.

Reinkemeyer emphasized that having a diabetes alert service dog is not for everyone, and requires a great deal of commitment and follow-through. "Unless someone is experiencing seizures, blackouts or comas, all the work will most likely not be worth it," Reinkemeyer said. "However, if the person and their medical professionals have exhausted all other avenues, a diabetes alert service dog may be just what they need in order to gain back their independence and sense of security in every day life tasks."

To hear this story on Alicia's radio segment, click on the link below:

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