(SERVICE DOGS) Assistance dogs are everyday heroes; saving human lives is just a day’s work for them. In her new book, Canine Angels, Marie-Claude Roy explores why service dogs, or “guardian angels” as she calls them, are so special and vital to the people they look after. People suffering with diabetes, epilepsy, mental illness, blindness, and other physical handicaps all tell stories of their wonderful four–legged saviors. Read on for a touching excerpt from this incredibly insightful book. — Global Animal 
Service dogs often make the difference between life and death. Photo Credit: Ashley Gilbertson, The New York Times

Dogs…a step above technology

By Marie-Claude Roy

In the past few years, assistance dogs have been trained for diabetics. They can alert their master about a high- or low-blood glucose rate. More surprisingly, these dogs intervene well before their master feels any symptoms, and well before his or her insulin pump starts to beep.

Here is a true story from the Canine Angels book:

It is the case for Sisi Belcher and her assistance dog, Nicolina. Even though Sisi wears an insulin pump equipped with an alarm, her dog often lets her know when her blood sugar level is too low (or sometimes too high) even before the alarm goes off.

“Nicolina is extraordinary,” Sisi declares. “A few years ago, she probably saved my life. I was returning from a trip and my car was in the airport parking lot. I had intended to drive to my home, which was about 45 minutes away. After I left the plane and just as I got to my car, my dog alerted me. I checked my blood sugar level and it was low, far too low to try and drive a car. I had no idea my blood sugar was low and my alarm had not gone off. If my dog had not been there to alert me, I probably would have tried to drive home. The road home winds through the mountains near the ocean in the San Francisco area. It is a difficult route for anyone to drive, impossible for a diabetic with low blood sugar.  I still cringe when I think about it. Nicolina probably saved my life that day, and I will always be grateful to her.”

In addition to writing for magazines, Marie-Claude Roy has conducted research for biographies and documentaries presented on the Historia, Canal D, Canal Vie and Canal Evasion TV channels in Canada.
In addition to writing for magazines, Marie-Claude Roy has conducted research for biographies and documentaries presented on the Historia, Canal D, Canal Vie and Canal Evasion TV channels in Canada.

Fortunately, the law allows Sisi to take her dog everywhere she goes. Each morning, Sisi walks about a mile with her dog to work. During the day, Nicolina sleeps dutifully near her mistress’s desk. Once back home, after supper, Sisi and Nicolina play ball. These activities may seem trivial, but it is part of the bonding process and Nicolina is constantly watching over Sisi, even at night.

“My dog is like a safety net,” explains the woman. “She helps me a lot with my diabetes. I wear an insulin pump with an alarm. When my sugar level is too high or too low, the alarm goes off. If my sugar level is too high, I have to program the pump so as to receive the desired amount of insulin to lower my blood-sugar level. If the sugar level is too low, I have to eat something to raise my blood-sugar level. The low blood-sugar levels are the most dangerous for me. The alarm is often too slow in noticing my blood-sugar levels dropping and when it does sound, it is easy to ignore or sometimes not even notice. Nicolina often alerts me before the monitor goes off and you certainly cannot ignore her. She is amazing!”

For more information: www.canineangels.info

Sisi Belcher and her dog Nicolina.
Sisi Belcher and her dog Nicolina.

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