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Diabetic Alert Dogs Save Lives

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We've all heard of bomb-sniffing dogs, search and rescue dogs, and dogs that help the blind get around safely. But now, a new and somewhat mysterious skill has been discovered that gives our canine companions the ability to save lives in a whole new way.

Our Bruce Gordon reports.

As he walks to the train station with his partner, a Yellow Lab named Ava. 18-year-old Zeke Simon remembers his first hypoglycemic event when the blood sugar level in his then 13-year-old body suddenly plummeted.

"I don't know if scared was even the word; it was just such a quick, surreal moment. I didn't know what was happening," Simon said, "I kind of just thought I was dying in that moment. I was like, 'well, all right, I guess this is it.'"

Zeke has Type-1 diabetes, which is why his parents bought him Ava. Her job is to smell trouble, before it strikes.

On this day, Zeke is headed to the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School to see a very special visitor.

Debby Kay is a pioneer trainer in the field of Diabetic Alert Dogs specially trained to alert their owner to changes in their blood sugar levels before those changes reach dangerous levels that could cause brain damage.

"When they know they're having a hypoglycemic event, they'll put the cotton sample in their mouth and collect a sample in there with the saliva," Kay said.

This pooch picks up the scent through a canister hidden in Debby's pocket. The dog's job is to get her attention.

A "scent wheel" is used to train the dogs to differentiate the hypoglycemic odor from others. A canister with a saliva sample goes in one paint can-- the other cans have empty canisters inside. The wheel is spun, and the dog goes to work.

Just a few years ago, the idea of using dogs to alert diabetics to impending trouble was unheard of.

Today, the field is exploding and so is wild claims made by unscrupulous trainers.

Think about it, a purebred Labrador retriever might cost $2000. A Diabetes Alert dog costs $20,000.

Zeke volunteers at the Working Dog Center he's still fine-tuning Ava's training, but already, he says the dog has on numerous occasions awakened him from a sound sleep to alert him to dangerous drops in his blood sugar level.

"It's horrible, because you're about to go low, but it's great because you're like, wow, she really saved me right there," Simon said.

"When you see what a difference it makes in people's lives- it gives them the confidence to go out on their own," Kay said.

With a partner who can save their life...at the first "whiff' of trouble.

"Man's best friend, times ten," Simon said.

For more information, visit here: www.diabetesalertdogalliance.org/

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