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Diabetic alert dog to help Enid girl and family manage disease

Kaleigh Buckminster, 3, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 13 months old. In about two months, she will receive Memphis, a diabetic alert dog who will tell her parents and other adults when Kaleigh's levels are too low or high.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: November 15, 2012

/articleid/3728627/1/pictures/1884585">Photo - Memphis is the diabetic alert dog that Kaleigh will receive once he's done with his training. Memphis, an  English Labrador retriever, is about eight months old. Photo provided <strong></strong>
Memphis is the diabetic alert dog that Kaleigh will receive once he's done with his training. Memphis, an English Labrador retriever, is about eight months old. Photo provided

She was sent to an Oklahoma City hospital and spent two days in the pediatric intensive care unit and another four days in the hospital.

Time for adjustment

It will be a while before Joy and Taylor Buckminster trust Memphis to alert them of Kaleigh's levels.

It takes between six months and a year before a dog is accurate. But the more time Memphis spends with Kaleigh, the better he will get.

This is especially important as Kaleigh grows older and starts going to school.

Memphis will be trained to paw at an adult, such as Joy, Taylor or Kaleigh's teachers, if her levels are off. Once Kaleigh is old enough, he will learn to paw her when her levels are off.

Ed Peeples, the president of the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, said a diabetic alert dog is trained to smell its owners' changes in blood sugar levels. When someone with diabetes has high blood sugar, their body produces ketones, which produce a sweet smell.

Ketones are produced when a diabetic's body starts burning fat for energy instead of glucose, according to the American Diabetes Association. If a diabetic's ketone levels are too high, it can lead to diabetic coma or death, according to the association.

Alert dogs also smell when their owners' blood sugar gets too low. In this instance, it's more of an acetone smell, Peeples said.

For Memphis to learn what Kaleigh's smells were, her parents placed cotton balls in her mouth when she had different blood sugar levels. Memphis learned to detect Kaleigh's varying smells.

Clients have told Peeples that their dogs saved their lives. However, the dogs are not replacements for the tools they use to measure their blood sugar.

Instead, the alert dogs can serve as a companion, someone to help watch over a child's diabetes when a parent isn't around, such as when the child is at school, Peeples said.

“We train the dogs to sleep on the side of the bed, so they can be trained to wake you up,” Peeples said. “They'll alert you when they're low, so that's kind of a peace of mind because every parent's worse nightmare is having a child go into the 30s or 40s and have a seizure while they're sleeping.”

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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