By: Becki Lang
(Editor’s Note: Although Becki Lang lives in the United Kingdom, we thought her story is one that would resonate with American readers. Unfortunately, in the United States there is no national organization that does what Medical Detection Dogs does. One organization that comes close is Northern California-based Dogs for Diabetics, which is limited by the sheer vastness of the state and the country from serving a larger area. Our hope is that Becki’s story might inspire other people with diabetes to start similar detection dog programs across America.)
Lying in the hospital bed, underweight, dehydrated, and with a blood sugar reading of over 400, I felt as if my life were over. Diabetes had changed everything for the worse. It had became a dirty word that I spat it out venomously every time I spoke it, and I saw it as a very unwelcome guest in my body.
I began suffering hypoglycemic episodes without warning several times a day. My specialists struggled to make sense of what was happening to me, and the word “brittle” began being bandied about. It wasn’t long before I fell into a deep depression, and began suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks because of the fear of further “hypos.”
It didn’t take much time for me to stop going out alone, driving, socializing. You name it, I couldn’t do it. I became more and more fearful, and more depressed. I was 26 years old and virtually housebound after being a sociable, independent young woman. After a lot of soul-searching I decided that I could continue being consumed with my grief, or I could try and find a solution. Though type 1 diabetes is said to be incurable, I felt that there were many other people living with the condition and able to live life fully.
I had a problem, and to every problem there must be a solution.
There was. I’d first heard about Medical Detection Dogs through an online article, and as an avid dog lover I was astonished at the capabilities of “man’s best friend.” Trained detection dogs are able to detect hypoglycemia as well as hyperglycemic episodes through their incredible sense of smell. In that moment I knew that this was my answer, a furry guardian angel that could alert me of any dangerous changes to my blood sugars any time, any place.
After discussing bringing a dog into my life with my family, I contacted the charity Medical Detection Dogs, which told me it was up to a three-year wait for a dog if I was deemed eligible. I couldn’t wait that long; I’d already wasted too much time, so I decided to purchase my own dog. The charity mentioned that if I trained my dog to a professional standard, it could provide additional support to assist in “detection” training. Because the waiting time would be shorter, I went ahead and researched which breeds were intelligent enough for the job.
In September 2011 I found the love of my life, a beautiful flat-coated retriever whom I named Oscar. As soon as he was old enough, we began intensive training sessions with an exceptional trainer who, alongside the fantastic group I train with, played a huge part in my emotional and physical recovery.
We began training for five hours a week, which because I was unfit was quite tiring. My young puppy also needed lots of exercising, so twice daily walks were a must. I couldn’t just stay in any longer. Oscar needed me and I had to step up to the challenge.
Oscar is now 18 months old, and we are about to take part in the final stages of training-the detection of blood sugar changes. I have been truly blessed as he has shown a natural instinct for his “job,” and I believe he has saved my life on two occasions by alerting members of my family when I became unconscious in the night. I already take him to hospital appointments, and cannot wait for him to be qualified as I will legally be able to take him anywhere like other assistance dogs.
Finding Oscar was life changing. Since I have had him in my life I have become fitter, healthier, and happier than I ever was before the big D. In a strange way, diabetes is now my friend. I understand my body far better than a “normal” person, and my diet is a million times better than it was before my diagnosis. I used to drink too much, eat too much, and think little of it-I was invincible after all (or so I thought)! I see now that I didn’t respect myself; my body was not my temple.
My journey isn’t finished yet, I still struggle with anxiety as it became a habit, but with my best friend by my side I know I will be able to face it all in time. Having Oscar helps me to sleep easier, and I’ve managed to teach him to find my blood sugar testing kit. Before, it was like my keys or wallet-always missing until my super dog arrived.
Medical Detection Dogs is an incredible charity, which not only supports children and adults with diabetes, but also trains dogs for use in cancer detection, epilepsy and Addison’s disease. Its work is incredible, and I urge anyone who suffers with unstable blood sugar to consider what an impact one dog can make to their life.
I can’t say that I want to have diabetes, but if it were a choice between having it or having Oscar, I wouldn’t give him up for anything in this world. When I’m suffering from a high or a low reading my furry friend gives me a nudge and I know it’s time to check. We’ve still got some distance to travel, but together it’s not a bad journey at all.