By Susan Byers -
As the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers. For Heather, a Diabetes Assistance Successor dog has provided a safety net for preventing her blood sugar numbers from falling into the dangerously low range.
By the numbers, Heather has had Type 1 Diabetes for over 30 years. That means taking countless blood glucose tests and innumerable insulin injections, while also calculating carbohydrates and activity levels. But from the first moment she was diagnosed at age 19, Heather was doggedly determined to manage the disease. Refusing to let diabetes hold her back, she took charge.
“I was a young college student, eager to finish my prerequisite courses to get into architecture school,” she says. “So I just applied a similar super-dedicated approach to diabetes: tracking my numbers and food intake, even bringing a scale to measure portions in the dorm cafeteria.” Later, during a semester abroad, she carried insulin, testing supplies, and snacks everywhere—in the steamy Middle East desert.
As the years went by, managing diabetes became increasingly challenging. Not only was Heather now working as an architect in an office and on job sites, her awareness of oncoming low blood sugars was beginning to wane. She had always been vigilant about using her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor to keep her numbers from getting too high. But her lows were starting to come on faster, and she was crashing harder.
In 2011, Heather was living alone when a friend with an assistance dog suggested that she might benefit from one as well. After learning about Can Do Canines, Heather applied and was matched with Diabetes Assist Dog Becca. “With Becca as my safety net, I felt less lonely,” Heather shares. “She was persistent in making sure I treated my lows, as if she knew my blood sugar was dropping before my meter even registered it.”
Sadly, Becca died in 2022. Now, Heather was battling grief, along with diabetes. Initially, she was ambivalent about bonding with another dog. But with so many variables to manage, Heather decided to return to Can Do Canines for a successor dog.
“It came down to the calculus of it,” she recounts. “Every day, I had to consider: ‘Where are my numbers right now? Are they going up or down? Am I prepared with snacks to treat a low?’” In short, a Diabetes Assist Dog made that equation a little less dangerous and a little less daunting.
In June, Heather met Franny, a 3-year-old black Labrador Retriever. After a couple of weeks of training at home, at work, and in public, Franny moved in with Heather and her partner, Greg. Having Franny on alert was beneficial right from the start. “She’s a rock star with retrieving testing supplies, but we’re still working on ‘get help,’ which requires not only training her, but also Greg,” she chuckles.
Franny is adjusting well to napping under Heather’s desk on workdays, ready to alert with a paw touch if Heather’s blood glucose is trending low. She also loves to accompany Heather on walks, play fetch, and ride along as a passenger in a bike trailer or kayak!
“We bonded very quickly, which I take as a sign that I was ready for a successor dog,” Heather said. “Franny is exuberant in her affections and has brought so much joy into our home.”
Grateful for her long-term relationship with Can Do Canines, Heather was quick to count the ways she is awed by the organization: “1) Can Do Canines provides dogs at no charge, which I find priceless. 2) They tailor the dogs’ training to clients’ needs in very specific ways that are quite remarkable, and 3) They raise and train the most beautiful and skilled dogs.”
So, to sum it up, does Can Do Canines make a difference? You can count on it!
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Raisers — Jennifer Alexander, Rachael Mackie & Matt Fortunato
Special Thanks — Stanley Correctional Institution
Team Sponsor — Linda Calvert
Name-A-Puppy Donor — Ellen Anderson
Teams like Heather and Diabetes Assist Dog Franny are only possible because of donors like you. Your support ensures that we can continue to train dogs like Franny, who loves the scent work that is necessary to alert to low blood sugar.
Your donation will be doubled through December 31, thanks to an anonymous donor. Can you donate today to help us train more dogs like Franny?