Service Dogs: A Day in the Life of a Diabetic Alert Dog

 

September is Service Dog Month, and what better way to celebrate than by bringing awareness to all the hard work service dogs do! We contacted the owner of Sienna, a service dog in Boston. This is their story.Sienna and Anne on beach

My name is Anne Szabla, and Sienna is what they call a Diabetic Alert Dog. I have had Type 1 Diabetes for over 20 years now. Because I have had diabetes for so long, I no longer and able to feel dangerous rises and falls in my blood sugar.

Sienna’s main job is to let me know when these changes are happening so I can go about my daily life without interruption! She was trained using scent training (similar to a bomb or drug sniffing dog) to smell out the scent diabetics give off on their breath when their blood sugar drops low or goes too high. When she smells this scent, she lets me know by placing her head on my lap, and then placing her paws on me. Because I can get distracted by things like work, or hanging out with friends, sometimes I don’t want to listen to her when she alerts, so she is trained to become more and more annoying the more I ignore her!

Sienna service dog with vestBeyond alerting to blood sugars, Sienna does many other tasks to help me get about my day! She can help me balance, walk and stand using a command called “brace” where she will make her whole body stiff so I can brace against her shoulders. She can retrieve items like glucose tablets, a blood sugar meter or my phone. She can pick up items that I drop, guide me around small obstacles, or even go get help from another person.

Sienna was trained for me by an organization called CARES, Inc in Concordia KS. When I first decided I wanted a service dog, I emailed CARES asking them about their program. They sent me an application, which I had to fill out, as well as sending them some information from my doctor and some letters of recommendation from people who knew me. I then had to wait a year and a half on their waiting list for a dog, since they are in such high demand! In March 2013 I was invited to team training, where I spent a week in Kansas to meet Sienna, train with her, and learn how to use her service dog skills.

As for our daily life, it’s pretty simple. Sienna and I walk to work, so she sometimes has to help me walk along the way. I work all day in an office. Sienna stays under my desk all day, mostly sleeping, but also getting up and letting me know if my blood sugar is starting to drop or if I need her help with something. Everyone in my office knows about Sienna and understands how important it is not to touch or distract her from her job.

Sienna and AidanWithout her, I would be sick far more often, and would miss out on a lot of time at the office, as well as fun time as
well! Since Sienna works as my service dog, I have the right to have her with me in stores, restaurants, and anywhere else the general public can go. She’s my constant shadow. We grocery shop together, go to movies, shop at the mall and more. When we’re at home, Sienna gets to act just like a regular dog! She likes to chew bones and play with her corgi brother, Aidan. Even though she’s “off duty” she still jumps into action if I need her help at home.

Sienna enjoying her 12 inch jumbo bully stick

Enjoying the 12″ Jumbo bully stick we sent her!

A Big Thank you to Anne for sharing her story! To see more of Sienna and Anne’s daily adventures, check out @bostonservicedog on Instagram!

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