A nose that knows: Diabetic alert dog helps New Paris girl
NEW PARIS —
A day in the sun for 10-year-old Kaeclin Shepard is accompanied by the shadow of a special friend. Charli can catch more than just a Frisbee. She’s called a diabetic alert dog.
"Type 1 Diabetes can be life or death,” Kari Shepard says. Her daughter, 10-year-old Kaeclin, lives with Type 1 Diabetes.
"It's Charli's favorite game is to get my blood sugar,” Kaeclin says. "She can save my life."
Kaeclin says Charli is trained to detect her blood sugar levels. Her pancreas produces little or no insulin. So she wears a Central Glucose Monitor, but if Kaeclin drops suddenly, there’s danger.
"If she dropped too low in her sleep, she could go into a coma. She could die,” Shepard says.
Kaeclin has been hospitalized because of her diabetes. She was first diagnosed when she was six.
She lives a round-the-clock routine of checking her blood sugar before eating and playing...and counting carbs.
"It feels like there's something like always on you that people might not know about,” Kaeclin says.
About a year ago when the Shepard family heard about a company called Heads up Hounds there was hope in sight – or scent. The company only trains rescue dogs.
“Essentially we saved her life, and they have trained her to save Kaeclin's life now,” Shepard says.
It's a one-of-kind bond. Charli's service dog training means that only Kaeclin can touch her.
“When she's rapidly rising, or when she's rapidly dropping to a dangerous level, Charli will take her nose and she will bump her hand or our hand to alert us that we need to check her blood sugar,” Shepard says.
Kaeclin used a sample of her saliva when she had low blood sugar to train Charli to get help when Kaeclin needs a sugar source or insulin shot.
"Her nose can save her life,” mom Shepard says. “She keeps her safe."
Doctors are still trying to understand how dogs like Charli can detect blood sugar highs and lows as much as 20 minutes before they happen. A 2016 study in the journal Diabetes Care found dogs may be detecting a biomarker called "isoprene”. Sensory scientists say a dog's sense of smell is 10,000 times more acute than humans, with 20 times more scent receptor cells than humans.
"We think that they may be sensing something in the person's sweat or on their breath. No one seems to know yet. It's kind of an area of investigation,” says Dr. John Cavanaugh, an endocrinologist with the South Bend Clinic. “Could be that they're just sensing abnormal movements in the patient."
Kaeclin still checks her levels a dozen times a day but says there's more security in having an extra alarm that's also cuddly.
"I love Charli because I know she's always on my side and she can help me -- and she loves on me, too,” Kaeclin says. "She's my best friend.”