Unusual life-saving service dogs

April 17, 2009 10:58:24 AM PDT
We're familiar with service dogs for the blind. And epilepsy service dogs can warn of an impending seizure. But did you know that there are now dogs trained to save the lives of people with diabetes? They are trained to predict dangerous changes in blood sugar. Coby nudges and pushes and bugs Bill Palmer until he gets his attention. That's how he warns Bill his blood sugar is dangerously low.

"He is able to smell when my blood sugar is low," Bill explained. "What we're training him with here is a sock that I wore when my blood sugar is low and mailed to Ann, his trainer."

Coby is a diabetes service dog whose warning gives Bill time to eat and raise his blood sugar before he has a seizure or goes into a diabetic coma.

Bill's wife Olia Palmer recalled, "I woke up one morning to find him in a cold sweat with his limbs already jerking and the only thing I could do at that moment was to dribble honey into his mouth. That brought him out of it."

They hope Coby will help them avoid crises like that. It takes three months of intensive training. Coby is one of 10 diabetes dogs trained by Betheden Kennels in Amarillo. More are in training.

Dog trainer Ann Pulliam explained, "W train yellow labs, golden retrievers, German shepherds? We trained one standard poodle. We train labradoodles."

Coby goes to work with Bill, and has been introduced to each student in the class he teaches at Houston Community College. Coby is a young dog and he's still in training. Eventually he will lay still by Bill's desk, without a trainer.

He requires a little correction here and there from the trainer who accompanies him. But Coby is already a part of Bill's life, and may someday end up saving it. It costs $7500 for a diabetes service dog. You can learn more about the dogs and training at Betheden Kennels.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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