I have had dogs all my life. Most of the time there was more than one. Big dogs, little dogs, snuggle bugs, and crazy fools. My wife and I are both big on rescues, she works in the animal rescue world and I volunteer with a rescue group as a photographer taking pictures of dogs in a local high kill shelter to help get them adopted. We have loved them all. And then came Major…
A little background: Several years ago my daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Our world was turned upside down in an instant. As we settled in to our new normal, and as we started learning more about diabetes, management, and helpful tools, we discovered a fairly new (at the time) type of service dog known as the diabetic alert dog (DAD for short). Intrigued, we started to research organizations and learning all we could. As lovers of dogs, we thought this might be a great addition to the family, and a helpful tool to help us protect our daughter. She doesn’t feel her lows, and she doesn’t wake up when she goes low. This creates a very dangerous situation, and especially when she is active, she needs to be constantly monitored.
My wife and I thought it would be amazing if we could find a rescue or shelter dog to train as a DAD. At the time, there were no organizations dedicated to using rescues or shelter dogs for this. There are several excellent reasons for that. Not knowing a dogs history could potentially pose a threat in an unknowing situation. Suppose the previous owner was abusive and always wore a yellow uniform to work. One day you are at the grocery store and a man in a yellow uniform comes down the aisle. Your dog gets anxious or nervous or aggressive or could try and flee. Another issue is health guarantees. These dogs have a tremendous amount of training that goes into them, and they are expected to work for years. Having a healthy dog is imperative, and knowing the history, understanding the lines are important when it comes to things like hips and eyes.
Knowing all of this, my wife and I still had it stuck in our heads that we wanted to try a rescue. We were turned away by several organizations (as it turns out, several of those organizations were only out to scam money or couldn’t train a dog to sit) until we came across Canine Hope for Diabetics. Crystal, the head of the organization, also works as an animal control officer. She is around shelters and is saving animals all the time. She offered to keep an eye out for a good dog and to train one for us.
That dog wound up being Major. And he was in rough shape. He was with a gun dog trainer. An abusive gun dog trainer. When Crystal found him, he was a year and a half old and 35 pounds. Skin and bones. He was forced to live on a gun dog truck for most of the day with no way to stand up or turn around. The large callouses on his elbows are from that truck. His coat was stained by urine from having to pee in that crate. He had issues with his neck from wearing a shock collar. And what did he do to deserve such horrible treatment? He had “hard mouth”. He tended to chew ducks after retrieving them. And then he would get beaten. Because of that, he doesn’t alert with a bringsel as he is afraid he will be hit. To this day, when playing fetch with a tennis ball (one of the few things he will retrieve now) you can see him chew it as he returns to your side. We are okay with that 🙂
If you have followed this blog for awhile, or follow our Facebook page, A Guardian Angel for Stella, you know the rest of the story. Girl meets dog, girl loves dog, dog saves girls life (literally), and almost 5 years later we are still trucking right along. As I stated before, using a rescue can come with some issues. In Majors case, he shuts down in the car. He rides in the car every day, and happily gets in. The car takes him amazing places. But he won’t alert in the car. Too reminiscent of the gun truck. He just curls up and lays down. Night time alerts are also not his strong suit (which led us to Raven, a story for another post).
As a person who has shared his whole life with dogs, I always heard stories about that one dog. You know the one, the dog that every other dog will forever be compared to. That one dog that changes the way you feel about animals. That one dog that burrows his way into your heart and leaves such an impression that no other dog will ever fill. I don’t know that I ever truly believed in “that one dog”, that is until Major.
I love all our dogs. When we brought Major into our family, we had 3 senior dogs that we hiked with and loved. But having a service dog is different. These dogs go with you everywhere. They go to the store for milk. They go out to dinner with you. They go on planes and vacations with you. They go to Disneyland with you. They are constant companions. And when we first brought Major into our family, he was trained to alert to my wife and I. My daughter was too young to handle her diabetes management, and still needed us to care for her, and if Major alerted to her he would often be ignored (an easy way to shut down or break your DAD is to ignore their alerts. If there is no confirmation and reward, eventually they will just be really expensive pets). To this day he still alerts to us.
Right about the same time we brought Major into our family, I started running in an effort to get healthy and be here for my family. I had a heart attack at the ripe old age of 38. A smoker since I was 11, the heart attack didn’t get me to quit. It wasn’t until Stella was diagnosed with type 1 3 years later that I knew I had to change my life. Major happens to love to run, and is the world’s best running partner. He doesn’t care how early it is, how cold it is, or if it is raining. He never cancels on me, and even if I’m not quite feeling up to a run, knowing that he loves it and needs the exercise is often all the motivation I need to get me out of bed in the morning.
It’s hard to explain just how much I love this dog. To start with, imagine the love and respect you would have for someone that helped save your child’s life. Roll that person into your exercise partner. Now combine him with your favorite companion. A trusted confidant. Someone who knows all your secrets. Someone that loves to curl up with you and read a good book. He is all those things and more. And he is “that one dog”.
I spend as much time with him as I do with the rest of my family (possibly more as he goes with me on every run, several hours and upwards of 35-40 miles each week).
And as for his nose? He is a rock star. We have met many DAD teams, and with the exception of possibly one team, I would put his nose up against anyone. While he has his quirks, and some teams have a stronger obedience background, his nose is amazing. He can alert from great distances, he has pin point accuracy, and he can alert on his girl in the midst of a room full of diabetics after eating a meal. As I sit here writing this, he came out of my daughters room to let me know she was high. Her BS was 170. His range is under 85 and over 165. It still amazes me to this day, and I’ve seen him do it thousands of times.
So thank you Major. You mean the world to me and our family. I can’t imagine taking this diabetic journey with out you to help keep our girl safe. We love you and are thankful and grateful that you found your way into our lives. You keep us safe, you keep us healthy, and you make us proud. You are amazing. To think that you were someone’s trash, not worth their time or effort, breaks my heart. You have taught us what it means to pay it forward. I love you, Major. That one dog…
And yes, he is THAT dog too: