When I was first learned about the Paws with a Cause fundraising effort that Danielle of Romance Book Junkies, and Laurie of Bitten by Paranormal Romance were putting together, I immediately thought of a lady I met almost two years ago at the Writers’ Police Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina. During lunch one day, Capri Smith told us about her wonderful “Teddy Bear” and how he had helped keep her daughter’s wildly careening blood sugar levels even, and had helped prevent the subsequent seizures.
While most people think service dogs only help the blind, I’ve invited Capri to tell you her family’s story too, so you can learn how service dogs can do so much more, and can actually save lives. Capri’s family didn’t get their Teddy Bear from Paws with a Cause, but there are many organizations out there equally deserving of our help. (Two notes: Capri’s story also has a warning that there are scammers out there taking funds away from the real organizations providing trained service dogs. And Paws with a Cause doesn’t train dogs for management of diabetes, but they do for epileptic seizures — more on that later this week.)
[I] want to tell you a mother’s tale, the tale of when Type 1 diabetes attacked my family. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that is not preventable and has no cure. It is my daughter’s disease. Kitty was six at the time of her diagnosis; but believe me when I say, it attacked my whole family.
One day, I woke up, looked at Kitty, and all I could see were her white lips, and I knew she was about to die. Our doctor knew immediately that there was something very wrong. When they tested Kitty’s urine for sugar, the strip turned immediately black. We raced to the hospital. A normal blood sugar is around 100. A high number is anything over 180.
Kitty’s blood sugar was 1,600. If we had put her to bed, she would have been dead by morning. It was that close.
I can’t say that the hospital was very helpful, neither were the doctors, nor the educators, nor the nurses. They did little to prepare us for what was to come. They never even mentioned seizures to me. They just said that if Kitty were ever to be unconscious, I should use the shot in the red box. Seizures became our life.
Low or sudden drops in blood sugar cause seizures, and Kitty had them in spades. No two low episodes were the same. Sometimes Kitty would go blind and walk into walls; bruises covered her face and body. She looked like she was being beaten, and strangers would give me hard and angry looks in public. Other times, Kitty’s mind told her that I was a monster trying to murder her. Then adrenalin would shoot through her body, and she would fight for her life. She kicked at my newly rebuilt knee battling with the demons that tried to hurt her, as I tried to get the life-saving glucose into her mouth. My husband thought that I was hyperbolic when I described her seizure strength until the day when he had to hold her down. My husband is a weight lifter; he can lift 300 pounds over his head; and, he struggled against her. We had to call the paramedics to intervene. Paramedics were suddenly very much a part of our life.
We couldn’t go anywhere without the threat of seizures. They had no rhyme or rhythm. We never knew when Kitty would suffer from one. I would check blood numbers before we left our car in the parking lot, and by the time we walked into Target, Kitty would be on the ground muscles twitching, screaming, losing control of her bladder. It got to the point where I was terrified to go anywhere. Imprisoned in my house, I stared at my child, hoping to catch the next low.
One day I was driving down the road and I knew that Kitty was going to die. I stopped and checked her blood. The meter read 132, which should be a nice safe number. I drove to the emergency room anyway. I had my lights on, my hazards; I leaned on my horn. I drove to save her life, like a bat out of hell, and I prayed. Somewhere in all that, I called the hospital and told them to be ready.
In Emergency, all hands were on deck, but they didn’t know what to do for Kitty. They showed me how her hands folded in, how she was gathering into the fetal position. I had read about this many times in school. This was an end stage reaction. My daughter was going to die today. Incredible. Unfathomable. Unbearable. She was going to die. Only through the heroic efforts of the Emergency Room staff, with intubation tubes and chest compressions, did they save her.
Science tells me that there should be a correlate between input and outcome. It has taken me all six years of Kitty’s diagnosis to accept that there is none. No matter what I do, no matter how much I try, I will never be a pancreas. I will never be able to judge how the food, exercise, temperature, mood, thought process, hormones, feelings, and great big X factor will affect Kitty. All I will ever be able to do is take a stab in the dark and try. Just wake up every day and try.
When Kitty was in the PICU, they asked how I knew that she was on the verge of death. All I could offer them was that, on the very top of her head, Kitty smelled funny to me. That got me a lot of blank stares. That meant nothing to the doctors. I had long hours to think this through, and my thoughts were, “if I can smell a smell just before she dies, I bet a dog can smell it long before.” I didn’t know why I thought this, but I did, and I clung to it like a life raft until I could get home. I wanted a trained dog for Kitty; one that could smell, and alert. One to be her lifeguard and save her.
It took me a year to find a program that could provide Kitty with a medical alert dog. A year of continued seizures and incredible stress. I remember one day, just after we got word that we were to receive a service dog at the next class from an organization in Missouri, Kitty was having a horrible seizure. I squirted the gel; I used the Glucogon. Nothing worked; we needed the paramedics. It was a horrific scene with Kitty losing control of her bladder and vomiting. The screams that Kitty screamed made the hair stand up on the back of my neck
With paramedics gathered around, Kitty lay on my bed. We tried to bring her back to reality. I stroked her arm and chanted, “Your dog is coming. Your dog is coming soon, baby. You’re going to be safe.” I lied. Not on purpose. I intended to provide her with her safety dog, but my intentions were pure, and the organization, to which we had paid nine thousand dollars, had intentions of pure greed.
It was a scam, and out of desperation, I was taken in. In my heart and mind, a dog was the only possible solution, barring major medical break-through. This was the only organization that had offered us anything in my year of constant searching. I was a little blind when I got involved. The organization built itself around the idea that parents of sick kids were vulnerable. And they were right.
I took my daughter to Missouri, where we went through three weeks of emotional abuse, to get a dog that was untrained, could not alert, and was downright crazy. Ever the optimist, I thought that if we could just get through this, and get the dog home, I could make everything all right. I was delusional. Nothing would take the crazy out of this dog. I took him to expert after expert, and they all said the same thing, “It will never happen.” And I had lost hope.
Then an organization offered us a three-month-old British lab puppy with the intention that he would train as a proper medical alert dog. I took on the challenge with a grateful heart.
In June, we drove to Washington D.C. to pick up our new chance. There he sat, a tiny fur ball, in his crate – all pink tongue and wagging tail. Kitty named him Teddy Bear. We took him home to figure out what to do next. I had never so much as taught a dog to sit. I was hopeful again; I was terrified of failure, again.
One morning when I stepped out of the shower, I found four-month-old Teddy Bear sitting on my sleeping daughter’s chest with her diabetic test kit in his mouth, his tail wagging furiously. I checked Kitty’s blood; she was 70. “Good low, Teddy Bear!” Then I sat down and sobbed. I sobbed relief. I sobbed incredulity. I sobbed gratitude.
I can’t say that our journey with Teddy Bear has been an easy one, or that it hasn’t been rocky at times. I’ve put more than a thousand hours of work into Teddy’s training. I am wholly grateful that Teddy Bear is a genius and can figure out what needs to happen, despite me.
He is a wonder dog. I can tell you incredible stories about him, like the time we went to Disney. Kitty wanted to go on the indoor roller coaster; I did not. A roller coaster was too much of a metaphor for my life to make it fun for me. We checked Kitty’s blood; she was a very safe 150. Off she went with her dad. Meanwhile, I took Teddy to go potty. Midstream, and I’m sorry to be graphic, but, midstream, Teddy stopped and went still with concentration. Suddenly, he took off running so fast that I was at the end of his lead hanging on. He pulled me along, passed the place where Kitty had entered, down the block, around another building, through the hedges and there he stopped. I was perplexed; where were we? About thirty second later, Kitty and her dad came out through a side door of the building, right where we were standing. Teddy jumped up to my face and yipped. I had never seen this before. I grabbed Kitty and checked her blood; she had dropped over a hundred points, down to 47, in nine minutes flat. She was on the verge of a seizure. Teddy saved the day. Again. He is our every single day hero.
We almost didn’t get to Disney. Teddy Bear’s public behavior overwhelmed me. He had been doing very well, and then a series of events, from a teenager almost running us over in his jacked up dually, to being attacked by dogs twice in one week, made Teddy skittish and unmanageable. Teddy’s alerts were incredibly accurate, and he was wonderful at home. In public, he exhausted me. I was about to make the decision not to take him out anymore. That’s when, once again, someone shined a light for us; I met Mike Stewart at Wild Rose.
The Stewarts were involved with training Mr. Darcy, Teddy Bear’s brother, to do diabetes alert work. The Stewarts were following the stories of the other diabetic alert puppies, which were descendants from the Wild Rose British lab lines. When Mike Stewart learned that I was about to make the heart-wrenching decision to leave Teddy Bear at home, he generously invited us down to Wild Rose so they could help. They didn’t need to invite me twice. I jumped in the car and drove to Mississippi.
Teddy made instant, and dramatic, adjustments to my new efforts. Through Mike’s help, Teddy became a steady public dog; one that I can take out with confidence; one who will lay alert for hours at dance practice, with heavy, stomping, Irish shoes tapping by his head; one who can hike the woods with the Girl Scouts; one who walks delicately through museum displays. He is awesome. He is beyond awesome.
Because of Teddy Bear’s constant vigilance and care, Kitty has been seizure free for four years. Teddy Bear alerts for highs, lows and ketones in Kitty’s blood. A Diabetic Alert Dog is not a cure, but it is safety. It is respite. It is confidence. It is healing balm to frayed nerves. It is miraculous.
Service Dogs change a person’s quality of life in amazing ways. I hope you will find it in your heart to support the good work of reputable organizations like Paws for a Cause, which help to provide service animals to those in need. I thank you.
~ Capri Smith
Click here to find out how you can help donate to Paws with a Cause.
There will be 4 winners for the main giveaway.
- 2 $65 gift certificates to any online book store.
- 1 huge box of books and swag from Romance Book Junkies (for US residents only)
- 1 huge box of books and swag from Bitten by Paranormal Romance (for US residents only)
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Don’t forget that you can win a print copy of Private Deceptions by entering the contest below, as well as entering the contest
Note: The widget below is ONLY for Leah’s giveaway. You must do the above to be entered for the main giveaway for the gift certificates and the boxes of swag. And I’ll send a copy to you no matter where you live, it’s not restricted just to the US.
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