Diabetic alert dog, Lexi, saves owner's life
Lexi, a mixed breed dog adopted from the Kentucky Humane Society when she was a puppy, has saved Nicole Harer's life. Not once, and not twice. Several times. Lexi alerts Nicole when her blood sugar is dangerously low or high.
For years Nicole was in and out of hospitals for multiple health issues, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
"I almost died a couple times in the hospital," she says. For six years, she claims doctors never diagnosed her as diabetic. But she is—classified with diabetes Type I. "Once they found out, I had a horrible time getting control of it," she says.
But her dog, Lexi, has been a lifesaving gift. The fuzzy one-year-old beagle/Labrador retriever mix provides companionship and stress relief. Lexi also does something else—the dog is able to detect when Nicole's blood sugar is too low or too high by smelling saliva. Lexi is a diabetic alert dog who receives continued advanced training in her specialty.
Liz Norris, a service dog trainer and owner of Pawsibilities Unleashed Pet Therapy of Kentucky in Frankfort, KY, has been training Lexi since she was a young puppy.
Liz says a service dog's most important quality is the desire to work and to please his or her owner.
"Lexi is an exceptional dog because she has a will to serve," says Liz.
Many dogs can be trained to pick up scents, but "it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack to find an exceptional service dog who is well mannered, accurate and wants to please," says Liz. Thankfully, Lexi has all three qualities.
Liz says just as difficult to find is an exceptional dog owner—someone like Nicole, who understands that service dogs need a lifetime of training to keep their skills sharp.
Lexi alerts Nicole when her sugar levels are out of line. When Nicole's blood sugar is too low, Lexi nudges Nicole and brings her fanny pack with needles, syringes and tests. When her blood sugar is too high, Lexi paws her.
Since Lexi's arrival about a year ago, her legacy has grown. In December 2011, the pup Nicole adopted from KHS became the rescuer when Nicole's blood sugar suddenly crashed.
"She started getting very frantic—like a crying sound," Nicole said.
The dog helped Nicole retrieve an emergency glucagon shot before she blacked out.
Lexi has also alerted to strangers. Last spring Nicole and Lexi were in a Pleasureville hardware store. John, who works at the store and is also diabetic, didn't quite seem himself. Lexi alerted Nicole that John's blood sugar was extremely low.
"We got him something to eat until he got his level up so he was able to drive. John had stumbled into the hardware store when he wasn't even supposed to work. It's amazing. I thought I was just going to get my husband some nails and myself some flowers for the garden," says Nicole.
Lexi has helped Nicole and inspired her to write her first children's book about a diabetic alert dog. The book is titled My Best Friend Is a Diabetic Dog.
Nicole has finished writing a second book and is hoping to educate others about Lexi and other diabetic alert dogs. Ten percent of each sale is donated to juvenile diabetes research. Her goal is to bring awareness of lifesaving diabetic alert dogs to as many diabetics as possible. Nicole also hosts food drives and fundraisers for people who can't afford their own service dogs.
"I know I sound like a big dreamer, but sometimes being as sick as I am, that is all I have. Before Lexi, I had no dreams left. Now with Lexi I have lots of dreams, and they are all starting to come true. My dreams are all about helping other people, and Lexi gave me this ability," Nicole says.