September 1, 2009
First, some background for this topic. Seven, and even four years ago, very little information existed about Diabetes Alert Dogs (DAD's). Some have called them service dogs. There were no standards for determining whether a dog was suitable and no published standards exist today. There is no National Organization to aid people seeking these dogs, to set standards, or even a database of reputable dog kennels and breeders for DAD's. Most of those in existence today have expanded from other service dog areas or are already dog breeders for other purposes.
Because some breeders know that people tend to let emotion control their buying habits, some are hoping to cash in on these buyers. These people are in the business of misleading potential owners of DAD's. I have not found any reliable concrete scientific evidence that there is a smell, odor, or body chemical that would cause a dog to react to a hyper or hypoglycemic episode. There are some Pharma's that are doing studies as they want to develop a piece of equipment to do what the dogs are capable of doing.
Before you castigate me, try telling that to the young people that have a DAD. There are some incredible instances of their dogs saving their lives. In essence, it is our young T1's that are the pioneers making this happen - along with some dedicated parents. Not only in the USA, but in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. This points to something that causes the dogs to be able to alert.
The demand is potentially great, because many T1's are hyper and hypoglycemic unaware, or will lose their ability to sense when they are having high or low blood glucose levels. Most T2's know when they are having a glycemic event. This is the place for the diabetes alert dogs.
There is a need for a National Organization to certify trainers and operations in the business of selling dogs to be DAD's. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is not qualified although it has given minimal recognition to DAD's and their potential place in the world of diabetes. The American Kennel Club is in no position to step into this role. It has enough problems in meeting it's own needs, not to take on this task. The Americans with Disabilities Act (also ADA) is working hard to allow dogs to be present where they have not been allowed before.
Training of dogs is vital to their ability. There are primarily two types of training available but only one that is suitable of service dogs. More on this in another blog. Service dogs and especially DAD's need to be easily controlled, even tempered, and responsive to the person for whom they are working. While most dogs, whether they are mutts or purebreds, are capable of being trained, some breeds are better suited for training because of the traits they possess.
Before a person gets excited about obtaining a DAD, they must do their homework. Why? Because "it is a buyer beware" climate where there are many persons and businesses holding themselves out as "experts" in training or having trained dogs available, that are less than reputable.
Learn to put emotion on hold and investigate, and then investigate some more. Check the internet using search engines, check with the Better Business Bureaus in the area of the trainer or breeder, the State's Attorney General, and always ask for references. Use the search engines to check for complains also. Enter the business name and add complaints. Do not be surprised, they exist! Some are legitimate complaints, and some may have complaints that are more mean spirited in nature - hence not necessarily valid and often anonymous.
If the references are not received promptly, take that as a warning. When references are received, then ask some hard questions of them - don't put them in a drawer. Ask how long they have known the people and the business? When did they last do any business with them or last have contact with them? Do they know anyone that has done business with them? If you receive no answer or a "no" answer, then take that as a warning.
Reputable good trainers and businesses have a network of people that support them which is not solicited because they are well thought of by their clients who will willing discuss the strengths and weaknesses (if any). These are what you are looking for.
For those wanting to look further, I list the following as a place to start. For a forum investigate Phorum.
Owner and Administrator is Rachel Thornton in Mississippi. Check a site still under development owned by Rachel Thornton. For trainers check out Rita Martinez from the San Francisco Bay Area, California, Dee Bogetti from Richmond, Virginia, and Liz Norris from Frankfort, Kentucky.
For future blogs, I am working on training techniques, IRS issues, DAD's in other countries, and ownership issues, and breeders.
I hope this introduction to DAD's has created an interest and that T1 bloggers will take up the challenge.