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BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – A new program is pairing children with diabetes with potentially life-saving service dogs. The Foothills Kiwanis Club in Boulder is helping train dogs that can actually sense dangerous changes in blood sugar levels.
Gracie Mellberg, 6, is one of the first children to enroll in the program. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just two-years-old. Gracie has to test her blood sugar 12 to 15 times a day and wears an insulin pump. She says she takes insulin, “only if my blood sugar is high or if I’m going to eat carbs.”
Now Gracie is training her new puppy, Copper, to warn her about potentially dangerous changes in her blood sugar.
Gracie’s father Joe explains, “It can actually sense the transitions in the glucose.” He says Copper can already pick up on some changes. “It’s secreted through her sweat glands and her breath so he can actually smell those transitions.”
Training is still a work in progress. It takes about two years to teach obedience. Then the dog can be fine-tuned to react to changes in blood sugar and become a certified service dog.
“It will go with Gracie anywhere and everywhere she goes.” Joe says Copper will go to school with Gracie next year when the dog is properly trained. At school, Copper can be trained to bark to alert Gracie, or her teachers, about changes in her blood sugar. Copper could also be trained to put its paw in her hand, a less disruptive distress signal.
A fully trained dog can cost between $15,000 and $20,000. But the Foothills Kiwanis Club is helping make them more affordable for families. The club is donating the training and selling sponsorship patches that the dogs wear. Area businesses have stepped up to support the program paying $1,000 per patch.
“This dog could potentially save a life,” explains volunteer trainer Susan Dickinson. “If it alerts the people around the child to get help as quickly as possible, it could potentially save a life.”
Joe Mellberg says there is an added benefit for his daughter.
“She would ask me ‘Why do I have diabetes?’” Now Joe says that conversation has changed, “But I got a puppy out of it and I have Copper now.”
For more information about the diabetes service dog program contact the Foothills Kiwanis Club.
There is also a major fundraising event this weekend to benefit people with diabetes. The Tour de Cure is Saturday, August 18th at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont.