Monday, Nov. 19, 2012
Service dog helps Peculiar boy cope with disease
By Bethany Bashioum
Avengers. Spiderman. Batman. The Hulk.
The list goes on–and they’re all superheroes in the minds of many boys.
But for 10-year-old Brennan Nelson, Peculiar, his favorite hero is a four-legged, black and white female Australian Shepherd named BeBe.
She is Brennan Nelson’s diabetic alert dog.
The 13-month-old canine who came to live with the Nelson family–which includes dad, John, mom, Julie, and two older sisters, on Sept. 14, has quickly become his Brennan’s friend and companion.
“She gives me hope,” Brennan Nelson said.
The Bridle Ridge Intermediate School fifth grader was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 6 years old, and monitoring of Nelson’s blood sugar levels has constantly required a great amount of care.
This pup is special in her own likeness with out-of-this-world superpowers.
As a service dog, it’s BeBe job to recognize his owner’s blood sugar level abnormalities.
BeBe has been trained to detect a different scent that Brennan Nelson’s body puts off when his blood sugar is too high or too low.
Because his pancreas does not produce insulin, Brennan Nelson’s blood sugar levels are always shifting.
When blood glucose is too high, people with Type 1 are in danger of an acid build-up in their blood, which can lead to a coma.
When the blood glucose gets too low, the person can become unconscious and die.
When Nelson goes out of his range, BeBe will alert Brennan Nelson, or his caregivers, by whining or licking his hands and face rapidly.
Formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes due to common onset during childhood, Type 1 diabetes affects 1 in every 400 children and adolescents, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The ADA recognizes November as American Diabetes Month, and Nov. 14 as World Diabetes Day.
Brennan goes, BeBe goes
Brennan Nelson received BeBe from CARES, a canine assistance program in Concordia, Kan. that exists to train and provide dogs for therapy, search and rescue, narcotic finding, hearing assistance, and for people with a variety of medical diagnoses, including those with frequent seizures or diabetes.
CARES has provided more than 1,100 dogs to people throughout the United States and in five foreign countries (Peru, Puerto Rico, Panama, Canada, Belgium and Latvia).
In the short time that Brennan Nelson has had her, BeBe has gone about everywhere he has–to school, church, the store, football games, birthday parties and band competitions.
Since his diagnosis, Brennan Nelson has had a hard time feeling when his blood is out of range.
After a scary incident several years ago, his parents felt a service dog would be good tool to monitor the disease, in which a cure has yet to be discovered.
Living with diabetes for Brennan Nelson has been challenging.
From having to walk past the chocolate milk in the grocery store, to having to use caution when playing outside, BeBe is helping life be a little more normal for him.
BeBe began training at eight weeks old with a basic trainer. BeBe then moved in with a professional puppy trainer and then a foster family.
The foster family’s kids took her to school and even was shown at a 4-H fair event as an obedience dog–and won first place in every event. The foster mom worked in a drug rehabilitation facility and went to work with her, as well.
Following the experience of living in a foster home, BeBe went to the CARES training facility, where she was tested and placed with Brennan Nelson.
After an application process and being selected for a dog, Brennan Nelson and BeBe have participated two different weeklong training events in Concordia.
BeBe has already been able to alert quite a few of Brennan Nelson’s blood sugar drops and highs.
“She misses some once in awhile but she has caught some very important ones,” Julie Nelson said.
Why BeBe is needed
An incident Nov. 5, helped prove BeBe’s importance.
The Nelsons had gotten home late in the evening from a University of Kansas basketball game.
“When everything was done I headed off to bed. I cuddled into my pillow and just began to drift off when I heard something. ‘Was that a whine?’ I listened. There it was again, this time a little more mournful,” she recalled. “BeBe was whining. She sounded like she was in her crate for time out but I knew she was in bed with Brennan and that his door was opened, so she shouldn’t feel like she was in trouble. Then I remembered, I hadn’t checked Brennan’s blood sugar at bedtime. I got up and went into his room. I checked his blood and found that his blood sugar was only 67. I then had BeBe go through our ritual of checking Brennan by licking at his hands and face and gave her a treat for her alert.”
“As I went downstairs to get Brennan a sugary drink BeBe whined again, she continued until I returned. I woke Brennan and as he drank, BeBe rested her head on his arm watching him intently. “
BeBe whined for another minute or two until Brennan Nelson’s blood sugar came up.
“It only takes one night like that, one alert to a low blood sugar that I might have missed, one save, to remind us why we wanted Brennan to have his medical alert service dog.
It was earlier enough in the night that if I hadn’t gone in there, there wouldn’t be any way he would make it through the night that low,” Julie Nelson said. “In the three years he has had diabetes, it’s been hard for him to sleep. He’s scared. He’s afraid one of these mornings that he won’t wake up.”
Brennan Nelson said he used to sleep in his parent’s bed, but since he has had BeBe, he’s slept in his own bed every night.
“When she preempts it, she gets a lot of praise and love, and when she catches one already low, she gets treats,” Julie Nelson said.
A class act
Since it is important that BeBe always be in tune to changes in Brennan Nelson’s body and scents, the dog was also welcomed at Bridle Ridge.
When BeBe began going to school, Julie Nelson sent a letter to the school’s principal, who then forwarded to the parents of the student body.
Julie and Brennan Nelson also did an assembly for students and teachers to meet BeBe and explain some ground rules about the dog and what to expect.
“We didn’t get one single negative response from the 500 kids,” Julie Nelson said.
Having been through doggy training, and now a pupil in public school, BeBe might be able to respond to some of the “Are you smarter than a fifth grader” questions.
BeBe has been taught traditional dog skills, such as sitting and standing, in addition to about 70 service dog commands.
Brennan Nelson also carries a small, business-card sized license indicating BeBe’s service dog credentials.
He is in charge of everything in order for the dog to have the correct bond. Nobody else should feed her or take her to the bathroom.
“When he was 6, he felt like he lost a lot. He grieved when he was diagnosed. We would go to the store and he would look around, and he’d sit in the grocery store and he would start to cry and miss being to pick something off of the shelf and say, ‘I want that mom,’”Julie Nelson said. “He lost of the freedom of just running out and playing for hours without me having to see where he was at every 30 minutes. When he got BeBe, not only did he gain some of the freedom of being out a little more, he’s more secure of being there and he has something that he is in control of.”
There is no on or off switch for diabetes.
“I know that I won’t outgrow it, but I hope I don’t have it for the rest of my life,” Brennan Nelson said. “I hope that there is a cure someday.”