Today at our puppy raising meeting, we had the opportunity to meet Mark Ruefenacht and hear his story about how he founded D4D – Dogs for Diabetics. We also had the opportunity to learn how these dogs were trained, the puppy raising process involved, and the partnership between D4D and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
When a GDB puppy gets phased out and decides he/she doesn’t want to become a guide dog or can’t become a guide dog for some reason, they are considered for the Career Change program, where they can become a service dog for a different organization/disability. Many dogs go to D4D. GDB and D4D have an exclusive partnership where no other guide dog school in the nation donates dogs to this organization. It’s very cool.
What I also find fascinating is that GDB is starting to research and train a few dogs to see if they can be dually trained to be a glucose/diabetic alert dog AND a guide dog. As you may know, diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. So, if a dog could alert a person with a visual impairment to high blood sugar levels and low blood sugar levels AND guide them, that would be super cool. There are a few working dogs out there like this, and they are seeing how effective they are. Dogs for handlers with vision have this thing (forgot what it’s called) around their neck and when it’s a serious low or high they pick it up to alert their handler. However, obviously this wouldn’t work for someone who is visually impaired because 1) jumping up on a blind handler to show them the alert would frequently scare the handler and 2) the handler wouldn’t probably be able to see the alert, depending on their level of vision. So the dogs that are dually trained for both diabetic alerting and guiding have a squeaking thing around their neck that they squeak to alert their handler. Very neat. At the beginning of our presentation, we actually got to see Mark’s dog alert. He had a high or low that the dog alerted too. 🙂 A random note that Mark mentioned was even if the dog gets too tired or old or isn’t able to go out in public access, they can still and do still alert at home. Very neat.
What Mark also talked about is about 40% of guide dog handlers at GDB have lost their sight due to diabetes. So, how cool would it be if these dogs could prevent this amount of blindness? Now, I personally wouldn’t trade my blindness or opportunity to work with Makiko/guide dogs for the world, but everybody has different situations and obviously preventing blindness is huge!
Mark also touched on another important note – Fake Service Dogs. As you all know, this is one of those topics I’m very passionate about – don’t fake your service dog people. Mark talked about how their are other service dog organizations that train dogs for alerting on glucose levels but they charge a LOT of money and the dogs are not that well trained. That’s a scam. These dogs are life-saving tools to help people manage a very serious medical condition and many times a lot of people have given up hope or got extremely frustrated and are LONGING for a dog.. so they pay a lot of money only to find out these dogs aren’t very good. So unfortunate.
I expect we will continue to hear more about this partnership between D4D and GDB in the upcoming year and the research associated with these cool dogs.
Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dogs-4-Diabetics/7676047299
Here is their website: http://www.dogs4diabetics.com/