Guest Post by Emma Kleck, Carb DM’s Program Assistant.
In Part 1, we met Emma and her Diabetes Alert Dog, Fleur. In Part 2, we learn more about Early Alert Canines, the organization that trained Fleur and Emma to be a strongly bonded team.
Early Alert Canines was established in 2010, and have been placing dogs with handlers since then! When I got Fleur, they had graduated 12 teams; I was the 13th. Since then, that number has risen to 36 teams. Ever since I began the application process, I have had nothing but positive experiences. I had thought that it was unlikely I would be placed with a service dog. I was a sophomore in college at the time of my application, a member of the marching band, and had plans to enter the healthcare field after graduation. I would have been turned away by any other organization with just one of those aspects of my life. However, Early Alert Canines took the challenge head on. I had many phone conversations with Carol Edwards, the executive director, and we worked out plans for classes, marching band, and anything else my service dog and I might encounter.
Once I found out I was accepted and would be placed with a dog, I had to wait for the next cohort of dogs to be ready for placement. EAC receives their dogs from Canine Companions for Independence and Guide Dogs for the Blind. They have been trained from puppy-hood, and for one reason or another, cannot complete advanced training. Dogs are “career-changed” for a variety of reasons — underbites, an affection for socks, skittishness with loud noises, and in Fleur’s case, an abundance of excitement. Just because dogs have these characteristics doesn’t mean they lack work ethic, and those who show promise get sent to other service dog organizations. While Fleur would not have been a great fit for someone in a wheelchair or with limited mobility, and does great at her job with me (as long as I keep a strong arm and a vigilant look-out for squirrels).
When Early Alert Canines receives career changed dogs from CCI and GDB, they finish the public access training, and then move on to alert training. Once the dogs can recognize the scent of low blood sugar, they are transitioned to foster families with diabetes. They stay with these families for a few months at a time before moving on to the next one, and are encouraged to alert as much as possible. When EAC is confident that the dogs are alerting consistently, they will pair the dog with a handler. This is an intense matching process; it is important to match a dog’s personality with his or her person’s daily activities and habits. For example, Fleur was a great match for me because she is pretty much unflappable, and my active lifestyle requires as much energy as possible.
I went through orientation about 6 weeks before team training. Orientation was a chance for myself and other clients to meet prospective dogs. We got to “try out” each dog, and walk through basic obedience exercises. Between orientation and team training, the dogs were fine-tuned on alerting skills, and the matches were made between dog and handler.
Team training lasted for 2 weeks (it is 1 week if the dog being placed is a Skilled Companion) and consisted of a bundle of information: all you need to know in order to be a service dog handler. I learned anything from basic grooming and obedience commands, to the workings of the law and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whenever a Fleur alerted during team training (and for the few months afterwards) I wrote it down and kept a log. It was important to document everything, as Early Alert Canines expects the dog to be alerting correctly at 80% minimum.
EAC will also place Skilled Companion dogs, which is one of the things that make them unique. Many service dog organizations will not place service dogs with children. EAC trains Skilled Companions to do most of their work at home, and these dogs are usually placed in families with children under the age of 12. They are also great dogs for families with more than one person with diabetes.
Early Alert Canines has been a lifesaving organization, in my eyes. They are supportive (who else would want to place a dog with someone in marching band), helpful, and receptive to thoughts and questions I have about Fleur. They have placed 36 teams so far, and are currently training 7 more dogs for placement. However, as supportive as they can be, they need support as well. There is a Generosity campaign currently running, and they are on the search for grants, partnerships, or any other type of large fundraising. Each service dog that is placed is worth about $25,000. Currently, EAC only charges for a training fee for each team. In order to keep training and placing these life-saving dogs, Early Alert Canines needs support from the T1D community! If you are able to donate, please visit the Generosity campaign (this campaign ends on June 30, so act now: donate, and share!). If you know of any available grants or partnerships, please contact EAC. Your help is needed in order to keep training and placing lifesaving dogs!