Just out of college at the age of 22, Abby went to the doctor thinking she had a common illness. What she didn’t expect was receiving a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
Once someone who traveled frequently and lived in Vietnam, Abby felt her world shrink significantly as she moved back in with her parents and began navigating her new reality. To complicate things more, a couple of years into her diagnosis, she developed an allergy to adhesives, which are used on more modern diabetes management devices such as wearable glucose monitors and pumps. Abby had to revert to using test strips for checking her levels, further elevating her anxiety. In addition, she often couldn’t sense her lows until they were at dangerous levels. Earlier in 2022, on the day she was moving into her own apartment, a low blood sugar level caused a seizure—an especially scary moment for Abby and her parents.
As luck would have it, a co-worker of Abby’s is a foster with Can Do Canines Puppy Program and knew about our Diabetes Assist Dogs. Abby thought that assistance dogs were really expensive and was surprised to learn that Can Do Canines only charged an application fee. She talked with her co-worker for quite a while, learning about our program, the dog’s training processes, and what to consider before applying for an assistance dog. She decided to take the leap and submitted an application.
Not long after Abby applied, she was matched with Sonora, an energetic black Labrador whose affinity for Abby was evident from their first encounter. “She came in with Stacy (the trainer) and immediately ran towards me,” Abby remembers. Sonora is a partner who keeps Abby laughing every day and never leaves her side “All day, she has to touch me at all times.”
But Sonora is much more than a cute sidekick. Prior to Sonora, Abby would set an alarm to wake up every couple of hours in the night to check her blood sugar levels. Now if Abby wakes up and is concerned about a low, Sonora can retrieve orange juice for her.
Their teamwork is also beneficial outside the home. Previously, going out for fun, to exercise, or simply to run errands was anxiety-inducing for Abby, and she made sure to always have someone with her who knew how to handle a diabetic emergency. Knowing that Sonora can sense the blood-sugar lows keeps Abby’s anxiety low.
The peace of mind Abby feels with Sonora extends to her family too. At a recent family gathering, Sonora alerted Abby to a low. She says, “My family started crying because they just couldn’t believe how insane it is that these dogs can do this and how life-changing this is going to be.’”
Abby feels like she is getting back to her old self. “Before I felt very secluded … so to now be the opposite, it just wasn’t me. So I feel like I’m able to get back to my normal personality and self.”
Abby even started traveling again, and Sonora accompanied her on a road trip to Nashville. “I love to travel! Not to say that I wouldn't have tried traveling on my own, but it would've been a big risk.”
Recognizing the big gift Sonora is, Abby thanks the donors and volunteers saying, “I'm sure they know that they're making a difference, but I don't think they know the extent.” Through tears, she says, “It’s just life-changing.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser — Federal Correction Institution - Waseca
Great Start Homes — Carol Johnson, The Elkins Family
Whelping Home — The Kittock Family
Special Thanks — Darlene Blomberg-White