Five-year-old Daegan Welch pets a 4-month-old Cavachon pupppy that is being trained as a diabetic alert dog. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 10:41 AM
Monique Chaffin said she recently had her first real scare since she learned in September 2012 that her daughter, Daegan Welch, 5, has Type 1 diabetes.
Blood sugar levels for diabetics should not dip below 80, but two months ago, Daegan’s blood sugar had dropped near the mid-20s — a dangerous level known as hypoglycemia that can cause seizures and sometimes death. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetics cannot produce insulin, which converts “sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.”
“I was trying to give her something to raise her blood sugar, but she was fighting me,” Chaffin said. “She was completely out of it. After I gave her some applesauce, she started coming to and didn’t remember any of what happened.”
The incident pushed Chaffin to find ways to better monitor when Daegan’s blood sugar levels would reach dangerous levels. Research led her to diabetic awareness dogs, which are trained to notice when blood sugar levels are not normal — a big help because children may not notice when it occurs.
Chaffin said she found the Jasper, Texas-based organization Drey’s Alert Dogs. During a visit Monday, she said Daegan quickly bonded with a nearly 4-month-old Cavachon puppy.
“(Daegan) is probably going to call her Angel, because she’s like her guardian angel,” Chaffin said. “It’s a smaller dog, so she’s easier to handle and she’s hypoallergenic.”
The puppy — a mix between a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and Bichon Frise — will have to be trained before the family can take her home in October. Chaffin said her family is raising money to pay for the alert dog, with each one costing about $16,000. As of Wednesday, more than $3,000 had been raised.
“You can’t put a price on your child’s life,” she said.
Roann Pearson, director of Drey’s Alert Dogs, said she began researching alert dogs after Type 1 diabetes was diagnosed in her grandson, Dreyvn Marshall, more than two years ago. Pearson, who has trained dogs for four decades, said she met with Scott Smith, a service dog trainer.
“My dad had trained dogs for scent detection,” Pearson said. “I created my own program from him, and later combined it with what Scott taught me.”
Pearson said the group has sent out between 50 and 60 alert dogs, and that none has been returned. She said it takes nearly a year of training before a family can take an alert dog home. The training includes socializing the dogs and teaching them to smell when someone’s blood sugar dips too low or too high.
“The dog will put a paw on the person and make eye contact,” Pearson said. “At nighttime, the dogs have a button they can push that will wake up the parents if the child is unresponsive. It makes the parents feel more secure.”
Chaffin said Drey’s will receive saliva samples when Daegan’s blood sugar is below 80 or above 180, along with a T-shirt that Daegan has slept in for three days so the dog can get used to her scent. Once they acquire the dog, they will spend three nights at a diabetic camp in Killeen, Texas, to get acquainted and to learn what commands the dog will respond to.
Pearson said the group typically uses British Labradors because of their small size, calm temperament, intelligence and ability to train. She said Cavachon dogs are better for small children but only account for about 10 percent of the group’s business.
“We are very picky with the breed,” she said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had, but the dogs get most of the credit.”
To donate online, visit www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/diabetic-alert-dog-for-daegan/128905.
Donations will be accepted at any Capital One Bank by giving to the Daegan A. Welch donation account, or can be sent directly to Drey’s Alert Dogs.