For us, as for many of you, diabetes is a merry-go-round of finger pricks, carb counts, hypos, juices, highs, headaches, and weighing bowls of rice. Then there’s the pump canula set change every 3 days, which Lauren gears up for with her own version of ‘Ready, set, go’… ‘One, two, three, LOVEHEART!’

‘Loveheart’ is code for ‘stick that thing in quickly and let’s hope it doesn’t hurt this time’. Invariably it does, and so follow tears and treats, in the form of a favourite food or TV show; really anything to make her hurt go away. Those parenting principles we once stood by so firmly, promising we’d be firm and never bribe our kids with pieces of chocolate to extract desired behaviour? They’re long forgotten in the wake of needles. Otherwise we go in by stealth, doing set changes in the dead of night while she sleeps, darting around her bedroom like ninjas with our caving head torches lighting the way. That’s my only badge of pride in this mess – that I’m a diabetes ninja mama.

This is the physical merry-go-round of diabetes. It doesn’t describe the emotional merry-go-round, however. The emotional highs, lows, tantrums, weariness and plain old boredom that come with the physical management of type 1 are taxing on any person. Kids with type 1 are resilient and tough, partly because they need to just get on, and partly because many people don’t realise just how much physical pain they endure on a daily basis. I’m proud of Lauren for it, as I know other parents are of their tough type 1 cookies.

Sometimes the chin drops though, and it’s too much. After our resilient girl began losing her spark, we heard about diabetes assistance dogs through a friend. Lauren was having frequent and unpredictable lows, often with no awareness, and was becoming so sad and disillusioned it was hard to motivate her to take interest in all the things she used to love, EXCEPT the idea of a dog. We mentioned that some people had dogs to help them manage their diabetes once, in passing, and she then spoke of little else for the next 8 months. She named her imaginary dog ‘Fluffy’.

After much research and contacting Aussie Angel Assistance Dogs to talk about Lauren’s eligibility and age, we decided that a dog for Lauren would be the right thing for our family, not only to help detect these constant lows and crazy rebound highs, but as a companion to help settle her feelings of sadness. We decided on a Labrador, but other types of dogs that are highly obedient and great with scent are also suitable. And thankfully, ‘Fluffy’ was updated to ‘Kira’, which made things less weird for my husband at obedience training.

Dogs like Kira are trained at home to detect changes in the saliva scent of their owners, detecting an acrid odour when blood sugar levels drop, and a sweet smell when their Lauren’s blood sugar spikes high. They then alert their person or parent to test, and when Lauren is at her crankiest during a low episode, it’s often Kira’s persistent hand nudging or excited ‘begging’ that convinces her to do the fingerprick that my words can’t persuade her to carry out. We now have a dexcom which has been amazing for peace of mind (and SLEEP!) through the night, but Kira’s nose still beats the technology to pick up a rapid drop. She becomes agitated and often grabs Lauren’s test kit before the Dex has dropped low enough to alarm.

When Lauren is mad at diabetes, Kira’s quiet presence is the calming influence she needs to settle the storm inside. A furry cuddle is uncomplicated, and she absorbs Lauren’s feelings without ever asking anything of Lauren in return, unlike Mums and Dads who give great hugs but still ask for homework to be finished. So as much as I value her incredible nose for picking up lows, I equally value the uncomplicated relationship and outlet Kira provides for my complicated little girl.


 

Kira may have an uncomplicated relationship with Lauren, but she’s definitely a complex dog. So much goes on in that crazy puppy brain of hers she started keeping her own dog blog on our website DB Life. You can gain a glimpse into the mind of an eat-all, smell-all, Labrador assistance puppy in the Dog Blog excerpt below:

“Hot sausage and mustard? Cold jelly and custard? The kid in that Oliver movie was just a bit precious, if you want the opinion of this labrador. He said he was hungry. He said he wanted more gruel, please Sir, and went all mopey-faced when he didn’t get it, but he JUST. DIDN’T. THINK. OUTSIDE. THE BOX. Food doesn’t just land in a bowl because you ask for it. I’ve learned this the hard way. You need to be a little creative to fill your belly.

Shoes are made from leather are made from cows. Cows are made from steak. Therefore shoes are basically made from steak. I’ve eaten PLENTY of shoes since I arrived in this house, and I’m growing just fine. The shoelaces get a little stuck on the way down, but there’ve been no major mishaps yet.

Since the leather ones were good, I tried out a few other varieties too, since you just don’t know till you give them a go. Thongs, flip-flops, jandals – flippers made of foam – whatever they are – feel AMAZING in the mouth and on sore teeth. Don’t knock it till you try it. I saw one of those little miniature humans in the 3-wheel buggy things chewing on his foamy flippers the other day too when we were out walking. I caught his eye, and we just gave each other a nod. To good taste and mutual respect. Gumboots are good too. They squeak.”

This article was published in the September issue of Diabetes Australia Circle magazine.