Lu Ommen of Harmony, Minn, has always been a man in motion. And, thanks to Gilbert, he doesn’t have to stop.
Lu is active and involved in so many things, it’s hard to imagine any condition could slow him down. He is the Executive Director of Maple Leaf Services, a non-profit organization serving people with developmental disabilities in Fillmore County, Minnesota. He’s involved at his church and sings in the choir. He’s been a member of the Harmony Lions Club for over 35 years and stays physically active, biking, golfing and making pottery. So what could stop him?
Lu was diagnosed at age 12 with type 1 diabetes and now has the added complication of hypoglycemic unawareness. This means that Lu is often unaware of the fact that his blood glucose levels may be dangerously low, as he does not experience typical symptoms of hypoglycemia (which can include sweatiness, shakiness and weakness).
Despite acute monitoring of his condition, Lu began having episodes more frequently, and over the past year had been taken to the emergency room for seizures (related to low blood glucose levels). Going low enough to elicit a seizure is a life-threatening emergency and has long-term effects on the body. These episodes were especially difficult and frightening for his wife, Susan, who has multiple sclerosis (MS). But, through his work with the Lions, whose clubs across Minnesota support Can Do Canines, he learned about the organization and applied for a Diabetes Assist Dog.
Enter Gilbert, a two-year-old black Labrador retriever. Gilbert’s job is to alert Lu to lows in his blood glucose level starting by a tap on his leg and then, if necessary, persisting with a look or a bark. An added benefit is that Gilbert is also alerting when his blood glucose is high. This is not something trained at Can Do Canines, but certain dogs are attuned to pick up and alert to highs levels as well. Lu says the alert. Gilbert gives him are different for highs than the alerts he gives him for lows.
“He is very persistent if I don’t respond and doesn’t give up until I follow through and check my blood sugar.”
Gilbert has truly become Lu’s partner in more ways than just alerting to his condition. He goes with Lu to the office every day, rides in the cart during Lu’s golf outings, and sits at Lu’s feet during choir practice. Gilbert gets a lot of attention wherever they go, especially the grocery store where Gilbert amazes people with how patiently he will wait for Lu to checkout, then pick up his own leash when it’s time to go.
Lu had not previously had a dog and went through a period of adjustment to the new responsibilities. But now, he and his family are happy Gilbert has joined them and praise him for doing such a great job.
“Gilbert is part of the family now,” says Lu with a big smile.