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Woman tells how diabetic alert dog has helped her

December 15, 2018

Some guardian angels come with four paws and a tail.

Just ask Deborah Cook of Sioux City, Iowa.

Cook is a lawyer, mediator and a longtime Type 1 diabetic. She’s also part of the Sioux City Cosmopolitan Club, a service organization that focuses on fighting diabetes and helping people with the disease.

While still in her early 20s, Cook discovered she was experiencing hypoglycemia insensitivity — losing symptoms like perspiration and feeling faint — that would indicate her blood sugar was going low.

“I got to a point where I had two or three episodes when my blood sugar was so low that I passed out,” she said.

A good friend — also a Type 1 diabetic — urged Cook to get a diabetic alert dog. That was about 10 years ago. Cook found a group that was training the animals and applied for a dog, but three years later still didn’t have one due to the long waiting list.

She learned about a program in which the organization would train a person’s pet dog.

So in January 2012, Cook got an 8-week-old, female Dalmatian puppy, which she named Ruby.

“Dalmatians have very strong personalities, but they’re very brilliant,” Cook said. “When I went to pick my puppy up, there were five of us in our car. I thought she would go to the little girl that was with us—but she came directly to me.”`

And she’d only sleep on Cook, who later learned Ruby had grown up in a family with a couple of diabetics.

“So she knew what she was smelling,” Cook said.

A person’s breath and saliva smells different when he or she has a high or low blood sugar level.

Low blood sugar has an acidic smell, Cook said, whereas high blood sugar has a sweet smell.

“A dog has something like 10,000 times more nasal receptors than we have and they can pick up on that,” she said. “Most humans don’t know the difference.”

And a dog may have even more nasal receptors than that with popular websites listing them as having between 220 million to 300 million.

Cook started training Ruby right away.

And Ruby’s super-sensitive nose went to work the first night Cook brought her home.

“I was asleep and she was in her kennel on the other side of the bed. She started jumping on the sides of the kennel and barking and crying,” Cook said.

Cook’s then-spouse thought the puppy wasn’t used to being away from her mother.

But when he looked at Cook, who appeared like she was passed out, he realized the puppy was alerting them.

Cook said she’s trained Ruby to alert her when her levels are just starting to drop below normal.

“When that happens, I’ve got 15 or 20 minutes before I have real serious issues going on,” she said, adding, “I have not had a pass-out low since I got her.

“For a while before I got her, I was having them — sometimes — several times a week.”

Some dogs need more training than Ruby.

But Cook said once the Ruby knew her scent, she just had to let the dog know how she wanted to be alerted. So she watched what Ruby wanted to do naturally – which was to lick Cook in the face.

Knowing that would wake her up at night, Cook encouraged Ruby to alert her that way when her blood sugar is low.

When Ruby thinks Cook’s blood sugar is high, she’ll hand her paw to the woman.

“If I ignore her, she is very persistent and doesn’t give up until I pay attention,” Cook said.

Cook recalls one time after she took a walk in her neighborhood.

“I walked back into the house and I could tell I wasn’t feeling quite right, but I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “Ruby met me at the door and pushed me to the refrigerator. I’d not taught her to do that, but she had observed that when I was going low, I would go to the refrigerator and get a glass of juice.”

Cook said Ruby has alerted other diabetics about their high or low blood sugar levels, too.

She and Ruby were at a Sam’s Club when another woman, who thought she might need a diabetic alert dog, came up to talk.

“Ruby sat in front of her and looked at her and kind of wrinkled her nose and raised up and licked her on the face,” said Cook, who asked the woman if her blood sugar level might be low.

People with diabetes use blood sugar monitors to determine their levels — and that’s what the woman used.

“She checked and she was going low — quickly and dangerously,” Cook said.

Another time, Cook and Ruby were at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Sioux Fall, S.D., when an older couple checked in for a surgery.

Ruby, who’d been lying down calmly, suddenly jumped up and was excited.

Cook calmed down the dog.

The couple came into the waiting room where Cook and Ruby were. Ruby dragged Cook over to the woman, who became alarmed.

Cook explained that Ruby was a diabetic alert dog who lets diabetics know if their blood sugars are high or low.

The woman was astounded.

“I’m a diabetic and I didn’t take my medicine this morning,” she said.

The woman tested her blood level and discovered her blood sugar level was getting dangerously high, Cook said.

“I’ve taken Ruby with me to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress with American Diabetes Association,” Cook said. “One day when we were there, talking to senators and representatives, Ruby alerted five times that day to four different people,” Cook said.

One man’s blood sugar level was high in the morning and low in the afternoon and she detected both times.

There are sensors that can help detect blood sugar levels.

But Cook cites the value of a diabetes alert dog.

“If technology is working beautifully for you, you would never need a diabetic alert dog,” she said. “But if technology doesn’t do everything for you that you need, a diabetic alert dog is a wonderful, additional tool.”

She noted that parents with children who are Type 1 diabetics don’t get a good night’s sleep, because they fear for their children’s safety.

That’s where a diabetes alert dog can help.

Cook noted other advantages of having one of these trained dogs.

“For diabetics who feel isolated because of their disease, a diabetic alert dog will change that completely,” she said.

She cites the case of a 12-year-old who’s become the most popular boy at Sioux City Middle School, because of Juno, the diabetes alert dog he is getting.

Cook also noted that she can expect to spend at least an extra hour at the local grocery store with a diabetic alert dog, because someone always wants to talk about the animal.

Ruby means so much to Cook.

“She is my guardian angel,” Cook said.

Ruby also takes up most of the bed at night.

But that’s OK.

A grateful woman can overlook a few things for a guardian angel.

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