Ore City boy with Type I Diabetes gets dog trained to sense blood sugar levels
By Sarah Thomas email@example.com
Sept. 15, 2012 at 11 p.m.
ORE CITY - A dog received a hero's welcome this past week for the role he soon will play in one East Texas child's life.
Bolt, a diabetic alert dog, is in training for Doug and Candy Scott's 12-year-old son, Joseph.
Brent Brooks, owner of Brooks Labradors, introduced Bolt on Friday to Joseph's schoolmates at a gathering in the Ore City Middle School Library, telling them how important it is for them to respect the job Bolt has to do.
"This dog is a hero dog just like the dog in the movie 'Bolt,' " Brooks said. "He doesn't jump over buildings in a single bound. He doesn't fly, but he does something that can sure save Joseph's life."
Brooks told the children he knows how hard it will be for them not to play with Bolt.
"Here is where I need your help," Brooks told the crowd of about 120 students and faculty. "Bolt has just one job. He needs to stay 100 percent focused on Joseph. It is seriously important that Bolt's whole world is just about Joseph."
Joseph was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes in August 2009. The illness prevents his pancreas from producing the insulin he needs to survive, leaving him unable to naturally regulate his blood sugar.
"I don't know where to start. I just want to thank Mr. Brent, Daniela, and Cami for all they did for me and Bolt," Joseph said. "I want to thank them for having a dog at the right time. He is going to be a blessing for me."
Despite the seriousness of Joseph's condition - he must have multiple insulin injections throughout the day - he rolls right along.
"He is one of those carefree, laid-back people," said his grandmother, Sarah Walter. "He handles it all really good."
Although Bolt is still in training and will not permanently move in with Joseph until the end of October, he and Joseph already share a bond that has been nearly a year in the making.
The 10-month-old Labrador Retriever has been in training since he was eight weeks old.
Brooks said it takes time to develop the specific skill set diabetic alert dogs need, and since Bolt will be within two feet of Joseph 24/7, socialization and proper interaction with different environments also is important.
During the past eight months, Bolt has learned to sense when Joseph's blood sugar is too high or too low by being exposed to Joseph's saliva.
"Saliva samples from a diabetic person are collected when the person is at a low blood sugar condition and later when their blood sugar is high," Brooks said.
Brooks used the samples Joseph's family sent to his facility in Dallas to teach Bolt when to alert Joseph.
"They learn to paw alert. Bolt will paw at Joseph, and it is a unique type of alert that a dog wouldn't normally do, so it is unmistakable," Brooks said. "When the dog alerts, he doesn't know whether Joseph is high or low. He just knows something is off, and Joseph will know it is time to check himself."
Brooks said service dogs can range from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the skills the dog needs in reference to the handler's needs.
Joseph's mother said the community came together to help the family pay more than $10,000 for Bolt.
"Local businesses and organizations and complete strangers gave in order for this to happen," Candy said. "Without them it wouldn't have been possible. God has blessed us all the way through."
The family learned about the program through a support group in which they met a couple whose daughter also has Type I Diabetes.
"Our hope is that it will give Joseph more independence, especially as he is coming into the teenage years," Candy said.
Brooks said Joseph can have the independence and the life his parents want for him as long as they remember Bolt is more of a support system than a cure-all.
"These dogs are not a replacement to any medical device," Brooks said. "They are a supplement to an existing management system."
And with Bolt around, nighttime should be more peaceful in the Scotts' house.
The family said they are most fearful when Joseph sleeps. The warning signs of low or high blood sugar can be missed during sleep. A drop or spike could send Joseph into a seizure, brain damage or even a coma.
"We have a lot of fear at night. He has a lot of fear at night," Candy said. "As parents, this is going to give us a peace of mind we don't have right now."
And Joseph said a good night's rest is something he is looking forward to.
"I can probably sleep a lot better at night knowing he is here," Joseph said as he smiled down at Bolt. "I like him alerting to me and knowing my life is safer when he is around me. It's like he is my guardian angel."