A diabetic alert dog gives a Karen Kieffer a new sense of security
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Karen Kieffer has lived with diabetes since she was 7 years old. She is used to dealing with it. It does not hold her back in any demonstrable way.
Yet, now that she has Sam, the diabetic alert dog she purchased in May, she cannot imagine her life without him.
Kieffer has called Marshfield home nearly her entire life. She was born and raised on a farm near Hewitt and worked at Figi’s, United Way, and Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry before retiring. She has Type 1 diabetes and has a good feel for when she needs to take her insulin, but she heard about diabetic alert dogs and thought it might be something to pursue.
“It was a big decision because they’re so costly,” Kieffer said of purchasing Sam. “I had passed out on my husband three times in the previous year, just low blood sugar, and my body didn’t tell me that it was happening.”
Kieffer’s husband Vern is retired but still drives truck often and is on the road regularly. They decided it would be a good idea for Karen to have a companion that could closely monitor her blood sugar.
Enter Sam, a nearly 2-year-old yellow English Labrador, who is specifically trained to sense when Karen’s blood sugar is rising or falling. Once the Kieffers decided to get Sam, Karen had to provide the company that trained him — Diabetic Alert Dogs of America from Las Vegas — with several swabs from the inside of her mouth at times when her blood sugar was at various levels.
Diabetic Alert Dogs of America then exposed Sam to the swabs so he could recognize Karen’s scent and when her blood sugar was too high or too low. Sam was trained for six months, and during that period he was with one of several trainers at all times.
One of Sam’s trainers traveled to Marshfield with him and stayed in town for a couple of days during the transition, and then Sam was officially Karen’s diabetic alert dog. Still, Sam did not immediately feel at home.
“They told me that it would take three to four months before he realizes this is his forever home, and it was three months almost to the day, and I knew when he realized that this was home because he started getting into mischief,” Karen said. Apparently, Sam has a penchant for emptying out wastebaskets, though Karen noted, “That’s about the only thing he does that’s naughty.”
To alert Karen when her blood sugar may be too high or low, Sam places his left paw on her leg and then goes with her as she checks her levels. If Sam is right, he gets a treat. He is usually right. During the interview with Hub City Times, Sam alerted Karen. Sure enough, her blood sugar was high.
“I’ve been diabetic for 60 years,” Karen said. She later added, “To have him here, … I’d be lost without him. He’s become such a part of my life.”
Karen said that Sam can anticipate when her blood sugar is dropping even before it hits a dangerous level.
“He’s smart. After lunch or after dinner … when the blood sugar goes up, he knows that,” Karen said.
Karen noted that normally she would only check her blood sugar three or four times per day, but now that she has Sam, he can alert her any time, often much sooner than she would realize on her own.
“I check my blood sugars a lot more often since I’ve gotten him because he alerts me,” Karen said. She added that because she has had diabetes for nearly her entire life, her body is used to it, and she may not recognize a rise or dip like she once did.
Now that she has had Sam for several months, Karen said he has become a part of the family.
“I like talking about him. I’m pretty proud of him,” Karen said. “Vern has fallen in love with him,” she added.
As a child Karen’s knees would shake if her blood sugar was out of the proper range. That, she said, was the only way to get her father, a farmer, to come in for dinner.
“My mom would have dinner on the table, and she’d say, ‘Karen, go tell your dad your knees are shaking,’ and then Dad came because he didn’t want me getting sick,” Karen said, laughing as she recalled the memory.
Karen has to worry far less about her knees shaking these days, and that is in large part thanks to Sam.