When Jessica Ching was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 15, she had very few resources to help her navigate her new reality. Jessica had zero access to apps, smart monitors and other self-management tools. Instead, Jessica got shots. And she dealt with a mound of myths about the best way to manage her condition. As a result, she felt as though she had no hope, no options and no chance at a good quality of life.
“Having Type 1 diabetes is like walking on a five-foot high fence that is one-inch wide. One little misstep or fall can be catastrophic,” Ching said. “You’re forced to constantly choose between your blood sugar’s highs and lows.”
Ching often uses the fence analogy to paint a picture of what a diabetic must endure —the precarious line they must walk, every minute and every hour of the day, even when they sleep. It never ends. Ching now manages her diabetes nearly exclusively with modern medical technology tools. Jessica also helps others diabetics by training dogs to be part of their own diabetes management toolkit.
“Dogs are a forerunner to diabetic technology,” Ching said. “And better information means better care. Dogs can help reduce falls, limit physical impact and even help with the emotional side of diabetes.”
The Amazing Dogs 4 Diabetics Program
Dogs 4 Diabetics (D4D) is a non-profit organization, founded in 2004, that researches, trains and places specially trained Medical Assistance Diabetic Alert Dogs with people suffering from diabetes. Dogs are initially trained according to the guidelines for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Then they go through extensive additional training, enabling them to recognize scents associated with changes in a diabetic’s blood sugar. They’re especially helpful in alerting their diabetic to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
“Our dogs can tell you if you’re going to fall in 10 steps. They can know 5 to 20 minutes before it happens. Even technology cannot do that,” Ching said.
Ching sat on the Board of Directors for D4D for four years. While she does not have a D4D dog of her own, she helps train and foster new dogs to the program. Some of the dogs make their way to D4D because they are “disqualified” from the Guide Dogs for the Blind program for a minor reason. Once they are accepted into D4D, they undergo an additional three to six months of training.
D4D works primarily with Labradors and Golden Retrievers. “These dogs are willing to work hard, and they have good noses,” she said. “They need to get it right, every time.”
Due to the rigorous training expectations—and enormous expense it takes to train and place dogs—D4D places just 12 to 15 dogs a year. Dogs usually work until they are about 9 or 10 years old.
Helping Reduce the Fear
Ching points out that she is fortunate to have so many diabetic resources to turn to for support: stability, insurance, a strong network, the latest tools. But, “a lot of people don’t want as much diabetes in their network as much as I do in mine.”
Diabetics live with a constant fear. Fear of falling. Fear of when they will land in the hospital again. Fear of the unknown.
“Dogs can greatly reduce that fear,” Ching said. “The dog is always with you. They can legally go anywhere you do. And you’re never alone.”
To learn more about Dogs 4 Diabetics and how they save lives, or to donate, visit their website here.Thank you, Jessica, for being a ScollarTales superhero!
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