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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Two Beginnings

Yes, there's more to the story!  So, as I had told you, Caitie is going to be paired with a DAD, a Diabetes Alert Dog.  There are many different philosophies, many different methods by which people train DADs, many different thoughts on where to begin.  Some breed specifically for this purpose, some train their own dogs, and, then, there is HeadsUpHounds philosophy, which fell so in line with our own that again, it just seems we are in the right place at the right time, with the right people.

Heads Up Hounds, or, for another acronym, HUH, trains rescue dogs to become alert dogs.  As an animal lover and with a family that thoroughly embraces rescuing animals like our shih-tzu/poodle mix, Morty, we were thrilled to hear that Caitie's new companion will be one who needed a home.  To give this new dog, whoever he/she may be, a home, a purpose, an owner who will love them completely and unconditionally, well, we feel like we've hit the jackpot of wonderfulness!

HUH finds these dogs as the time gets right to train for another person to take home their new companion.  The training can take three to four months, with a lot of effort embedded into that time.  Saliva samples are given from the soon-to-be owner, these samples are used to train the DAD on the scent of high and low blood sugars from their person.  The dogs are trained in all sorts of situations, from night-time vigilance, to grocery store and restaurant etiquette, to whatever the new owner's schedule may be.  For Caitie, we are looking at this new BF (best friend!) to be Caitie's guardian at night.  As parents of a child with type 1, I can very well tell you that a good night's sleep has been absent from our lives for about 14 years...to have someone else on the clock soon, and, with her at sleepovers, college, etc...the tears come very easily...

Caitie will be the owner of this dog.  We've watched videos of the hand-offs, it makes the butterflies in my stomach flutter--Caitie will become this dog's world and she will be responsible for her new friend's care.  A big responsibility that takes thought and consideration, and she's ready to take the leap!  That this dog is being rescued makes us love it even more, and, we haven't even got a clue who he/she is yet!  The excitement is building...there's still a lot to learn and a lot to do, but, we are feeling like Christmas in July is just around the corner!

As I count my blessings from the year and look to the future,  K9 4 T1, and HeadsUpHounds are tops on my list and making my heart burst.  I am "speechless" (ha ha) when I think about how blessed our family is and how lucky we are to have become involved with such wonderful people, and to begin this journey.  As a parent, I am sure that each and every one of you reading this can understand the love and want to provide safety and care for your children, and, that it is coming in a furry, fun package--what a bonus!  

The new year is sure to bring new challenges and new stories...and new Footsteps of Hope... all my best to you!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THE REAL BEGINNING

First, an explanation of what a DAD-Diabetes Alert Dog is, and can do, for someone living with diabetes.  These dogs are trained to smell the smallest increments of scent from a person when their blood sugar is too high or too low...in simple terms, for example, one of the warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes is "fruity smelling breath"...this is when the person has a high blood sugar and you can actually smell the sugar on their breath.  Some people can smell this, some cannot...these dogs are trained to smell the microcosm of that scent, and, the scent a person has when their blood sugar is too low.  Training entails sending samples of saliva to the trainer for the dog to learn "their person's" scents...hours and hours go into this process, sample after sample in all sorts of conditions...so that in the end, awake, at work, doing errands, or asleep, this dog will then be able to alert its person when they may not know themselves that they are entering a danger zone.  Amazing.  Simply amazing.  Not to mention, the stress-relieving aspect of owning a pet, the companionship, the exercise the person gets caring for the dog...so many positives!

But, yes, I do recognize there are 1.  Things I don't know, and 2.  Challenges and uncertainties that come with adding a DAD to one's life.  This dog will bring attention to the Diabetes, possibly more than the person...and the person needs to respect they now have to own the responsibility of educating, advocating and understanding that they will be "out there" for the world to see.  There will be times when they need to weigh their situation and determine how their new companion fits in...all food for thought ... and, there will be unforseen experiences that will have to be dealt with -- some would just call that "Life"...(that's what I'm thinking!)

So, here we are ... at the beginning of the journey, all these things in my head as well as the fun stuff...what will Caitie's dog look like?  Will they be a he or a she?  What will Caitie name her?  Does Caitie get to name her??  Or him??  :)  So exciting!

So, back to the BEGINNING...
Last summer/fall, I was running all over the state for work, and one day I found myself out of town, tired, just ready to fall asleep to get up for an early morning and long next day.  I clicked on the news in the hotel and was just about to turn it off again and just go to sleep, when they teased the next story after the break..."Local father and son finish Ironman, but, there's more...this son did this with the challenge of type 1 diabetes...more after the break".  Well, of course I stayed up!!  When the news story continued, I learned of this father and son team that had taken on this challenge and come in seconds before the deadline for Ironman.  They interviewed the son in the hospital, recuperating from the race.  I was taken in by the story and wanted to know more...

So, I called the station a couple days later and got the name of the father who ran the race.  I called and left a message for him and went on with my days.  A few days later, Dan called and introduced himself.  This is our beginning...this is when all that stuff about right time, right place, something out there in the universe making sense all comes together.

Dan started to tell me the story of he and Zack, his son with Type 1 and why they were running.  He told me they run for a non-profit called K9 4 T1.  K-9's for Type 1's...and that I do not know the whole story...there was more, much more, after that interview on TV.  Zack had to stay in the hospital an extra day to get his levels straight, and, Zack had a DAD, so, the DAD, Oden, went home with Zack's frat brothers back to their home out of state.  What I didn't know (besides at the time that Zack had a DAD), Dan went on to tell me, was that Oden had contracted a virus and he had, very unexpectedly, died that week.  Dan choked up, I started to cry and all of the sudden there was a Mom and a Dad on the phone, The world stopped.  Dan and I spoke for a long while, about Zack, his dog, Oden, and why they run for this non-profit.  Dan's sister also has Type 1, and she now has a DAD.  Changed her life.  I told Dan about my dream of having that guardian angel for my daughter, Caitie, for when she goes to school.  It was a conversation to another parent, I did not, at the time, realize that Dan was K9 4 T1!  As we talked more, Dan told me that K9 4 T1 raises funds for people to get a DAD of their own, and that he, and Zack, were running to raise funds for the charity to help fund dogs for other people.  They were happy to report that they had raised enough funds this year to sponsor a dog that would meet his new owner this past fall.  I was so impressed and touched by this.  I had no idea what was coming next...

A week or so later, I got an email from Dan.  I remember exactly where I was, in the kitchen, cooking dinner, checking email, multi-tasking...I started to read Dan's note and I couldn't comprehend what I was reading...tears filled my eyes.  Dan wanted to sponsor my daughter, Caitie, to get her own DAD.  He had been thinking about her and how wonderful this gift had been for his own son.  His generosity, to this day, is more than I can imagine.  It brings me to tears, it makes my heart burst, it is incredible.  When I think about how we just by chance met, how our stories came together at just that moment, goosebumps.  Thankful, thankful goosebumps.  Caitie came into the room, saw her mom crying and asked what was wrong.  I couldn't speak, I just turned the email to Caitie.  She caught her breath, and hugged me.  The beginning had begun...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A New Adventure, A New Friend

Well, it's official!  We sent in Caitie's application today for a DAD, a Diabetes Alert Dog.  This decision has been a few years in the making, from dream stage to learning stage to decision making...in the end, the resounding question we asked ourselves was, "Why WOULDN'T we do this?!"  A companion for Caitie that will be a safety net, another tool for her to use to rise above the highs and lows to live the life she wants! Not to mention she is a HUGE dog lover and there is a smile across her face ten feet wide! We're in!

If you are like me, you have a ton of questions if you're just learning about DAD's now.  I still have a ton of questions!!  I'll be happy to share what I learn along the way, and to share our journey, but what I know already is every person's experience is going to be totally different~there are a lot of different views out there, a lot of different methods, a lot of different philosophies on DADs, and their owners!  So, consider this one story, one journey...maybe you will choose to take this path, or that, but, in the end, know that we are just one of many, and, we are doing what feels right for Caitie.  I hope you'll join us on our journey, follow along, stop in once in a while to find out what's going on, because I think it is going to be one heck of an adventure!!

THE BEGINNING...
So a few years back, when I first heard about DADs, I thought to myself, with goosebumps on my arms, "There is Caitie's graduation present right there...I want her to go to college with her own DAD!"  Now, realize, she was 9 at the time, but, I believe in planning ahead!!  ;)  (believing in planning ahead and always being able to do that, those are two different things!  Especially with D on the ride!)  So I read the stories as they came into view...astounding what these dogs can do!  They can detect when "their person" has high or low blood sugar, and, alert them to it..." incredible", I thought...

So, I researched a little bit more, and found the cost of these dogs is remarkable as well...$10, $20, $25,000 ... I understand the cost, the training...but, my dream suddenly became a bit out of reach...I've got two kids, one who is about to embark on a college adventure of her own, not to mention the every day bills, medical bills, etc. that comes with a family.  So, I watched from afar as I learned more and more about DADs.  Of course, the dream never left my mind.

THE MIDDLE OF THE BEGINNING...

A few years later, DADs popped up again as a local boy was being interviewed on the news about his DAD and the very generous donor who was stepping up to help this boy with the costs of getting a DAD.  The donor, so impressed with what these dogs can do, and, an animal lover himself, put his hope of helping to find 10 more dogs for people in the area out to the public.  You had to apply to become a candidate for this opportunity, so, I was on the computer, lickety-split, filling out the application.  Another big learning curve, another chance to dream...

A few days later we received a call from the company that had done the training for this boy and his dog.  That is where the real discovery began.  Caitie had just turned 13, and the interviewer asked about her life, how she manages her diabetes, etc.  This is where I learned about the first philosophy of DADs.

Philosophy #1:  24/7 DADs

This company trains DADs to be with their person 24/7, no exceptions.  The interviewer asked us to think long and hard about this...Caitie would be taking the dog to school with her, have to care for the dog at school, take the dog everywhere...all the time...except maybe the occasional date...down the road...wayyyy down the road  ;)  The interviewer mentioned that it was difficult to place dogs with 13 year old girls ... one girl had actually returned her dog, the teasing and spotlight were too much for her - kids can be mean - and when she was taking her dog to school, the kids started making fun of her for having to clean up the dog's "business" during the day.  The peer pressure and the outing were too much.  I thought about that a lot...  I shared that with Caitie, we had a heart to heart about what life would be like.  She'd have to explain, teach, educate, D would be out there, front and center, at least for a while...Caitie's response, I'll never forget it, "Welllll, I don't think we should completely discount the idea just because of that..."

So, we waited to hear if we were in the running for some support...the call never came and the subject faded as we learned more about the process, the life of DADs and I watched more closely as I learned of stories of those who had gone the DAD route.  We thought a lot more about the intricacies of having a DAD and what that would mean, how it would affect the every day... still... a story would come and I would think, "(sigh) but to have that companion, that safety net, for when she goes off on her own..."it still seemed like the right thing for Caitie.  Caitie still thought it would be the most awesomest thing ever!  Here is one of those times when I do believe everything happens for a reason and everything happens in good time, if it should.

Stay tuned for the next installment, "THE REAL BEGINNING"...coming as soon as I have another moment to write!