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Kathie Bradshaw and Koda

I had the priveledge and honor of helping pick Koda for the Bradshaw family!   Kathie has done a AMAZING JOB in training this lil dog!  The following are her words not mine....but I agree whole heartedly!  Shared with her permission!

My Thoughts on Owning a Diabetic Alert Dog
by Kathie Bradshaw

I love animals and when I heard about the possibility of owning a Diabetic Alert Dog, I knew that was something I wanted to learn more about. I spent a year researching and determining if this would be a good fit for our family. When I finally decided we were ready to take the plunge I contacted our diabetic alert dog trainer and asked her to help us pick out a puppy. I figured I better have the help of the trainer from the beginning if we were to be successful, because let’s face it, all puppies are adorable and it’s hard not to fall in love. I knew however this puppy had to be special and I needed help.

We met several litters of varying breeds before settling on our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-Koda. She was a great fit for our crazy little family and I was so excited about the prospect of her alerting our daughter for lows. Over the space of a year we met on average 2-3x a month with a different obedience trainer and our dog become a very well mannered pup. I love having a dog. I love that my daughter has a friend to comfort her when diabetes spins out of control, and I love that we have a service dog who is a great ambassador for the Diabetic Alert Dog world.

Here’s what I wish I would have known before hand though, and hopefully it will help others who are determining if this is a good fit for them.

*My daughter was 10 when we got our dog and I didn’t realize how much she would be high from hormone growth during these tween years. There were many weeks we only had 1 or 2 lows and that made the real time training very challenging. It did progress and we got a lot of high work in, but since I was more focused on the lows, I was hoping it would come faster. Over time it did come and now she alerts us regularly.

*I had no idea how much longer it would take me to run errands with our dog. We get stopped ALL the time and have long conversations with people. Plus everyone wants to pet her. This is great for training, but hard when you are a busy Mom on a schedule.

*I didn’t realize how much the dog would bond with me. She prefers me to everyone else because I am the one home with her all day. She loves my daughter, but clearly chooses to be with me. I’ve done the majority of her training, walking, praising, & treating. The kids are involved and have taught Koda a ton of tricks, but she alerts me to the lows, not my daughter. She is constantly seeking my praise. It would have been so much easier if I were the diabetic to get the training down sooner. I chose not to send the puppy to elementary school daily. I didn’t think my daughter was old enough to handle the training of the dog and I knew it would be a big distraction for the class. We still keep her at home during school hours, but do travel with Koda and take her to a lot of sporting events for low detection.

*Be prepared to travel with a doggie type diaper bag whenever you go out in public. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s like having a toddler around and all their stuff.

*Because I chose a smaller dog breed vs. a larger breed we get funny looks ALL the time about our “Service Dog.” It can be a little challenging. Most often, when people take the time to talk to us about her they are amazed and very supportive. However, there are always whispers and lots of focus on us where ever we go. This is hard on the days my daughter doesn’t want all the attention and doesn’t want to answer a lot of questions. She doesn’t want diabetes to always define her and sometimes wants to blend in with the crowd. The dog definitely makes her stand out.

*Children with Diabetic Alert Dogs really don’t want the responsibility of caring for the dog. You will be the one at the Vet, bathing, cleaning, grooming, walking, and caring for the dog. Kids just are kids and can only do so much. Understand that dogs need a lot of care. I average 2 hours a day spent mostly on walking, obedience training, diabetic training, feeding, and public outings. The kids do help, but I am the one managing and being responsible for Koda’s care. As a parent of a Type 1 Diabetic I also know how much time that takes each day. Be honest with yourself if you have the time to spend with a dog. There is no way I could have done this without all my kids in school.

*Dogs are expensive. We spent well over $3000 the first year in training, surgeries, food, toys, bones, boarding, crates, dog beds etc. I expect that to go down these next few years, but it is a big investment of time and money to train your dog right.

*It can be very awkward when your dog alerts someone else who isn’t aware they have diabetes. Our dog has done this several times and is constantly checking out other people’s breath.

*There are times my daughter gets mad when the dog alerts her and she wants to ignore the diabetes. She pushes the dog away and yells at her. It can make bonding between her and the dog challenging.

*I never knew how much it would mean to my daughter to have a dog to just hang out with and tell her secrets too. She loves that Koda just listens to her and she loves how loyal Koda is. Dogs are very accepting and loving and that has been a joy to watch. They love sleeping together.

*When you own a Diabetic Alert Dog you are representing a group of people and can’t afford to have a misbehaving dog or it will ruin the service dog name for everyone. It’s a big deal to be a good handler and a good ambassador for the service dog reputation.

*Sometimes the dog provides me with therapy because I feel like I am empowered in fighting diabetes by training her. So often I feel helpless. Training our dog gives me something positive and productive to do.

Would I do it again-YES! Would I have done a few things differently, again yes. My expectations would not have been quite so high. For me I wanted a pet first and a diabetic alert dog second, so it has worked out well. If I had wanted a dog just for the alerting, I’m not sure it would have worked for us. I would recommend a Continuous Glucose Monitor if that’s your purpose. It is a lot less work and also very accurate. You really need to love pets to welcome this new member into your family successfully, and if you do then it can be a truly rewarding journey. As parents of T1D’s we are willing to try almost anything to help our kids and at any cost. I so get that. Just remember Dogs are at least a 10 year commitment, so never make a hasty decision when considering this option. Good Luck!

Well said Kathie!

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