Service Dog a Constant Companion – and Lifesaver
It’s loud in the Skyview Middle School cafeteria during lunch break. Eighth-grader Taylynn Lindsey chats with her friends at a table set at the back edge of the room. They’re an active bunch, having been set free from class for this short span of time.
While the conversation is lively, one member of the group is remarkably calm. He even appears to be napping in the midst of the rambunctious scene. That’s Doc, Taylynn’s service dog. He’s a Labradoodle, and while it’s tempting to reach out and do the “baby-talk-scratch-behind-the-ears” thing with him, it’s not allowed. Doc is on duty. He is there to alert Taylynn—or another authority figure in the room—should Taylynn’s blood sugar level drop too low or rise too high.
“IT’S BEEN AN AWESOME LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR THE ENTIRE SCHOOL, INCLUDING THE ADULTS, ON HOW TO CONDUCT YOURSELF AROUND A SERVICE ANIMAL.” - Jenny La Duca, Skyview teacher
Three years ago, Taylynn was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after a series of symptoms prompted a trip to the emergency room. Her parents, Andria and Rob Lindsey, were unfamiliar with the disease and thought that the situation would stabilize quickly and then they could all go home. But, type 1 diabetes requires far more than a quick fix in the ER. Five days later, Taylynn was discharged from the hospital with a heavy dose of the reality the intricacies of managing this life-threatening disease brings.
The newly diagnosed immediately begin the fight to maintain their sugar level. If the level is too high, they suffer from lethargy, ketoacidosis, and damage to nerves and organs. If the level drops, they may pass out while operating a car, or even walking. Worse yet is the possibility of secondary trauma or a coma.
A healthy range for glucose levels is between 72 and 140 milligrams per deciliter. At her diagnosis, Taylynn’s level was over 970.
When Taylynn went home, a mountain of new information for her and her family went with her. Yet she didn’t choose to rely on others for help. She took on the task of calculating her carbohydrate intake and administering her own insulin shots.
“This is my disease,” says Taylynn. “This is my life. I have to take it in my own hands. I’ve grown up a lot since my diagnosis.”
Yet, Taylynn’s sugar levels were rapidly ping-ponging high and low. Fearful that her insulin intake would cause low blood sugar levels during the night and Taylynn might not wake up to notice, her parents would trade off checking on her every two hours. They soon got a Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) system that would deliver data to their phones, but it was hard to trust the technology with their daughter’s life.
Doc was trained through Diabetic Alert Dogs of America. Immediately upon arrival, he was ready to work. He alerts Taylynn—or another authority figure he identifies—by putting his paw on her knee whenever her blood sugar level drops below 80 or goes above 150.
“Doc picks up on lows and highs before the technology,” says Andria. “He’s more accurate.”
“If Taylynn hasn’t checked in with him in a while, Doc will stand to let her know it’s time,” says friend Riley Johnson.
“He’s super observant. He notices everything,” adds another friend, Hillary Shipman.
Luckily for the Lindseys, the community got involved in fundraising to bring Doc home. Bend Senior High (BSH) Activities Director, Mackenzie Groshong announced that the “Mr. BSH” fundraiser would benefit Taylynn’s cause. Taylynn’s older brother Tyler, a 2017 graduate, was one of the participants.
“[Groshong] told me they wouldn’t take no for an answer,” recalls Andria, a Mathematics teacher at BSH.
In addition, there were the folks at Cinder Rock Veterinary Clinic in Redmond, who collected donations. The remaining expense was borne by an anonymous donor and family members.
A Dog at School
At Skyview Middle School, the faculty did a great job of preparing students and families for Doc’s arrival. They recognized that not everyone is comfortable around dogs and wanted to ensure this would be a smooth transition.
“It’s been an awesome learning experience for the entire school, including the adults, on how to conduct yourself around a service animal,” says Jenny La Duca, a Social Studies and Language Arts teacher at Skyview.
Doc’s calm and steadfast support is there, no matter the surroundings. That middle school cafeteria? No problem. Horse shows? (Taylynn is an avid rider.) Sure! Band class? Yes!
“This is typical of how Doc reacts in band,” instructor Keith Chaiet says, pointing to Doc curled up on the floor between Taylynn’s flute section and the timpani.
Soon, Doc won’t be the only on-duty diabetic alert dog on campus. His effectiveness and ability to blend in has prompted several other students who live with type 1 diabetes to consider the program.