I’m sure many of you have read the 2016 book Elle and Coach about the experience of one family with a T1D kid and their journey to get a diabetes-alert dog. The mom in the family – Stephanie Shaheen – does a great job in the book (co-written with Mark Dagostino) describing some of their emotions from Elle’s diagnosis to the decision to pursue a diabetes-alert dog, to their life after that choice.
We actually live in the same community as the Shaheen family, and Elle’s grandmother was governor of our state and is currently one of our senators. Pretty high profile in our area. Elle is quite a few years older than the Bear though, so we never met them through school or other activities. Elle did attend the same elementary school as the Bear and at one of the school’s annual fundraisers (a huge silent auction), we had the winning bid on a prize donated by the Shaheen’s: a copy of the book signed by Elle and Coach (!) and a lunch with Elle, Coach, and Stephanie. You can probably imagine me geeking out over this opportunity.
Stephanie and Elle couldn’t have been more welcoming or friendly and it was great to see a diabetes-alert dog on duty, in person (or, in dog?). I was fascinated by how much training the dogs go through before they even meet their person/family. And then, how much training the humans need to go through as well to understand how to interact with the alert dog in ways that let the dog do his/her best work. The Bear of course mostly loved meeting Coach and just being around this awesome dog who works so hard to keep Elle safe and help the rest of the family be more aware of when Elle might have high or low bgs.
At the time we met, Elle had successfully navigated middle school with Coach’s assistance and I loved that the Bear got to see someone a few years ahead of her, living a great (and very normal) life with diabetes. She asked Elle a few questions about school (where does Coach sit in class? do other kids ask a lot of questions or want to pet him?) and of course she left the lunch wanting a diabetes-alert dog in the worst way.
I always feel lucky when someone else living with T1 gives us a glimpse of what things are like for them – what tools they use, what choices they make and why. If you have thought or wondered about a diabetes-alert dog, I definitely recommend this book — check to see if your library owns a copy or can interlibrary loan it for you. It’s also available in paperback. We aren’t in the market for an alert dog yet ourselves (much to the Bear’s disappointment!) but it’s obvious that they can make a huge difference.