I was given the wonderful opportunity to speak at the Wildrose DAD conference, as a family living with a DAD. I couldn’t get through the whole speech, and for that I apologize. These dogs, and the type 1 community mean so much to me, and I struggled reading it through tears, but here it is in it’s entirety. Please let me know what you think.

It started off with an introduction by me, but the important concepts to take away from it are that this path is a hard one, and requires constant work and effort. And the successful teams you met (I’m always hesitant to put myself in that group as I am in awe of all the work the teams of Charlie, Ruby, Willow and several others have done) and saw this weekend AREN’T lucky, they work their asses off (WE work our asses off). Always remember the words of Samuel Goldwyn:

“The harder I work, the luckier I get”

The title of this is “This ain’t easy…”

This ain’t easy. I remember the day we came home from the hospital with our new baby Stella. 7 pounds, 3 ozs. I didn’t have a clue. I looked at my wife and said “How could they let us leave with her? What the hell do we do now?”

7 years later, when we were admitted to the hospital after Stella’s t1 diagnosis, they kept us there for 4 days. That was a longer stay than when she was born. Part of the reason was because they wanted us to learn. About type 1, nutrition, diabetes, blood sugar, injections, carbs, and all I could think of is that this wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t have a clue. And then when we got home, I said “How could they let us leave with her? “I don’t remember a damn thing!”, and, of course “What the hell do we do now?”

Somewhere along the way, we heard about these amazing dogs called DAD’s. We love dogs. We help dogs. We’ve taught dogs to sit and stay. How hard could this be? They come fully trained and ready, right? We got in touch with Crystal, and decided to go with Canine Hope. We spent months working with them, attending sessions, learning and training. We were matched with Major and did some sessions with him. And one day, Crystal left him with us. And I said “How could Crystal just leave him here? What the hell do we do now?” I didn’t have a clue.

We didn’t have Major very long when it happened for the first time. Life got in the way. Work, school, stress, and a laundry list of other things. And Major was more than happy to transition into a pet. And I made that call for the first time. “Crystal? I broke him. He’s not working anymore” There have been several more of those phone calls and texts. And randomly showing up at agility trials to get some training and work through issues with Tracy (a CH trainer) in between her running her dogs. The answer is always the same. “Have you been working with him? Have you been doing obedience with him?”

And that was when I learned that this ain’t easy. If I want this to work, then I need to work. This needs to be a priority. And this needs to be addressed daily, just like taking a shower, eating breakfast, and going to work, I need to keep these dogs sharp and on task. This only happens because we want it to happen. We make it happen. We need it to happen. Every day for the rest of the dogs life.

These are living, breathing animals. They LOVE to work, or they LOVE to be lazy. You need to decide for them what path they are going to take.

Diabetes has a habit of infiltrating your life. There is no more spur of the moment “lets go grab a bite to eat, or let’s go to the movies”. Things like that require planning. Things like that require stuff. We have our diabetes bag. We all know the kind of things that are in it, and we all know that you can’t leave home without any of it. Meters, extra sets, strips, Gatorade, alcohol wipes, the list goes on. Now you decide you want to add a service dog. Well, we have a dog bag too. Treat bag, collapsible water bowl, place blanket, reward toy, poop bags. We can’t leave home without that bag either.

That’s just to get out the door. Now, once you’re out and about, you have to deal with condescending looks and comments, uneducated public, people who can’t read the DO NOT TOUCH sign, places that would rather not have you there, having to find potty spots, people wondering why you have a dog, or how long you’ll be training it, a school board that needs to know just why you need to have this, friends and family that think the rules don’t apply to them. You may have a pet that won’t appreciate the new addition, or a sibling that may be jealous that they don’t have their own dog.

Now you have a dog that needs constant exercise, training, grooming and baths, vet care, good dog food, added expense, insurance, a dedicated day (or 4) every month to extra training with a group, constant fine tuning, equipment, and will still occasionally do something that will make you stop and scratch your head. You will be under constant scrutiny by the public. People will gasp and mutter under their breath at the grocery store. Drunk people in casinos will trip over or kick your dog. Kids will tease the dog. Housekeepers in hotels will scream when they see the big black dog walking down the hall. Other dogs will get aggressive. You will need to dedicate precious hours per week to this animal. Your child will have highs that take hours to go away, and you’ll be looking for ways to lock your dog up because  he keeps alerting. You will try to run into the store for a couple of things as quickly as possible, and 4 different people will stop you and hold you up for an hour with questions. There will be rainy days when the dog still needs to be exercised. You will be sick and just not feel like walking the dog. During the chaos of a low that the dog alerted to, you need to treat the dog that is super excited your child had a low. And you need to get scent samples. And then you need to remember whether or not you actually treated the child.  There are days when you’ll think it would be easier to just run out without the dog. There will be times when you’ll want to say, “we aren’t going to be gone that long”. There will be a time when your dog will do the biggest potty you’ve ever seen. In front of a kindergarten class. Or your daughter’s principal.

So why do it? What could possibly be worth all this work and effort and expense?

Because one Christmas, you will be hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree with your family, laughing, dancing, smiling, and singing Christmas Carols at the top of your lungs. And your dog will alert a ½ hour after dinner. And you will think about ignoring it because, well,  of course she’s high, she just had dinner. But you will check. And she will be 75 and you’ll think that’s weird. But you’ll get a juice box, and she will say she feels fine, and the festivities will resume. And then your dog will alert again. And she will be 60. And you’ll get some smartees. And you will continue to pump her full of carbs, because she keeps dropping, and the dog keeps alerting, and then, 45 minutes after your dog alerts the first time, she will begin to throw up all the carbs you gave her. And you will have had a 45 minute head start, and been able to place phone calls to your endo and nurse, and had a chance to get her to the hospital just in time to avoid a seizure, coma or worse.

Because one day, you will be driving 2 hours home from SeaWorld, with happy, tired kids in the back. You will test before you leave, and she will be 139. She will fall asleep. And you will be at ease, driving in a car with kids sleeping in the back. And then your dog will alert, and she will be 45, you will still be an hour from home, and you will be able to give her a juicebox and prevent a disaster, because you wouldn’t have checked again until you got home.

Because you will be so tired one night, you will sleep through your alarm and turn it off. And your dog will wake you up at 2 am to alert, and you will find that not only is she high, but that her pump battery died, and her pump is off. You will get the opportunity to correct a 300, and not a 500-600 (or worse) when you wake up in the morning.

Because you will have a 9.6 A1C level 3 months before your dog, and between your focus, your dog’s alerting, and the pump, you will bring that down to 6.8 in 18 months.

Because your daughter will have a hard time dealing with peers, be socially awkward and slightly immature for her age. She will be the only type 1 at her school. She will want someone to talk to. And your dog will lay with her in bed for hours, be her pillow, her confidant, her keeper of secrets. Because you know as long as she has him, she will never be alone.

Because every now and again, she will get out of the shower, she will forget to reconnect her pump. And your dog will alert, and you will discover it before disaster strikes.

Because you will have a heart attack at 38 from smoking all your life. But that won’t make you quit. It’s not until 3 years later, while you are getting ready to leave the hospital after your daughter was diagnosed with type 1, and she starts to cry. And when mom asks her what’s wrong, she says “I don’t want daddy to die or wind up here” and it will break your heart. So you become determined to quit. For her. So you quit, and you start to exercise and run. But you realize that sometimes, it seems like it would be a little easier to go back to the old life style. And then you get this damn dog. And this damn dog loves to walk, and loves to hike, and you make the mistake of taking him on a run with you one day, and now he loves to run. And every morning when your alarm goes off, he rushes to your bedside, and his look says “it’s time dad, let’s go running”. And you realize you can’t let him down. He doesn’t ask for much, And after all, he saves your daughter’s life. And yes. He’s saved yours too.

Because one day, you will be talking to a group just like this, a group of type 1 families that have dogs or are looking to get dogs, about what it’s like to live with these dogs. And it will be right after lunch, and after a few minutes you will watch all the dogs start to get restless and alert. All except one. The one at your feet, in front of everyone else, asleep on the floor, that you have been telling everyone is a “rock star”. And you will be embarrassed that this “rock star” isn’t alerting, and you will consider giving him a nudge to wake him up, but you won’t. And then a few minutes will go by, and all the dogs will settle down, and your still talking. And then it will happen. He will sit up and alert to you. But your daughter is in a different cabin, so you send someone to go get her. And you will think that she’s got her typical after lunch high. And they will get her, and bring her up to the front, and while giving your talk you will test her. And she will be in the 50’s. And the tears will start streaming down your face.

Because one day you will be at a car race to watch another type 1 diabetic, Charlie Kimball, race his indy car. And you will be sitting at a very crowded table about to eat lunch. And your dog will alert, and the woman across from you will ask a question about the dog. And she will say, “I didn’t know dogs could even do that! Did you know Charlie Kimball was a type 1 too?” And you will say “of course, he’s the whole reason we are here, so my daughter can see what amazing things type 1’s can do” and you will show her the Kimball race car you just bought your daughter. She will start to tear up and say “That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard, would you like it signed? Charlie is my son…”

Because one day you will realize that you didn’t just “buy a dog”. You got a family. Friends. A support group. A shoulder to lean on. People who don’t judge, that have been there, or are heading there.

And these things won’t happen often. But because you are doing all of this hard work, spending all of this extra time and expense, when things like this do happen, your dog will be ready. And your dog will save your child’s life. And you will thank the lord that these amazing animals are in your life. And you will say  to yourself, “wow, this ain’t easy. But damn, it is worth it”

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7 Comments

  1. I cried with you when you presented this over the weekend…I cry now reading it. You’re an inspiration and are saving lives everyday…with your willingness to share the trials and tribulations of T1 and by spreading awareness to the hoards of people who’ve found you and are considering all their options for better management of their child’s health. YOU are making a difference: In the lives of your family and the lives of others that face these challenges everyday without the benefit of a DAD. You’re giving HOPE and proving we can beat this thing. And let’s not forget how you’ve given purpose to a very special and sadly unappreciated little black lab, who will never again feel unloved. He has the most amazing little blonde ball of determination as a best friend and now understands peace and what it means to be truly loved. YOU have brought so much to an entire community, and for that, WE THANK YOU!

  2. Yep. I’m crying too. Your honesty is touching. We all feel those same feelings…. But it’s hard to express them in a sensible, understandable way.
    Thank you for giving me insight into what it takes to be a DAD owner/operator. I won’t trivialize the amount of work needed from this day forward.
    I appreciate the countless hours of so many trainers and owners that have come before us. I appreciate that God above gave us these creatures that want to have a place in our lives.
    Thanks again for your talk. It inspires.
    -Lisa Wright

  3. Pingback: Frank’s Story | Doggone Diabetes

  4. My face is leaking so much that I can hardly type this! Dogs are amazing. Humans rarely acknowledge what they are capable of. Many humans are so ignorant that we actually believe we are doing these animals a favor by letting them live in our backyards and simply feeding and watering them. They live and breathe to be a part of the family – and they know us more intimately than our own human family members do. Thank you for so candidly sharing your story… and thank you for educating others about DAD’s and how they require training and love, but pay it back ten thousandfold. God bless you and your daughter as you continue to help us ignorant human beings understand just what we’re all missing out on – whether diabetic or not – when we miss an opportunity to realize the potential in our own furfriends!

    Marcie Gray (and family, including two rescued Akitas and an adopted Yorkie) 🙂

  5. That got the tears flowing. Such a great post!

  6. Peggy Tanksley

    This is REAL T1 info and I appreciate you sharing with everyone. My son was diagnosed a year ago.. Our lives have changed tremendously… And I know that with this disease it will continue to change. Thanks again for information on DAD’s!

  7. Kirk Kneeland

    As a 20+ year T1 diabetic I found your frankness and frustration about living with your daughter’s diabetes to be painfully honest. Also, because I realize that diabetes affects the whole family as well as the one who has it, it is amazing to see how a dog can not only be a man’s best friend, but a T1 diabetic’s as well. Thank you for stepping up to speak out.

  8. Cindy VanHulla

    Very well put stories!!!!! I can relate to them all. I’ve been a T 1 for 45 years….way before we could test out blood sugar at home, any time we needed to. So much better now a days. However the longer a person lives with this, the more complicated it gets of course. I’m finally admitting that I need help too. I look forward to a DAD in my daily life! The extra work involved will be worth it. Thank you for the wonderful article, Cindy VanHulla

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