November 6, 2017
Anyone who’s welcomed a pet into their family knows what a profound affect animals can have on our lives. They bring us joy and unending love, and offer friendship in a way that people often can’t. Research shows that pets can also improve our self-esteem, ease stress and anxiety, and even reduce the risk of cancer.
Keilee and Jason Miller are familiar with the positive influences pets have on health and well-being — their family includes four dogs and two cats. All of them are special, but when the Miller’s adopted Topher — a 3-month-old Lab mix with soft black hair — they unknowingly opened their hearts and home to a dog with a hidden talent that might someday save Jason’s life.
“The first week we brought him home, I was sitting on the couch watching TV and he jumped up and started licking me, whining and scratching at me,” says Jason, who’s lived with diabetes his whole life. “I pushed him off the couch but he did it again. I tested my blood sugar about ten minutes later and it was 52.”
A normal blood sugar level ranges between 80 and 120 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood (mg/dl). Jason thought that perhaps Topher’s behavior and his low blood sugar were a coincidence, but he took notice, and began blood testing and documenting after Topher would give similar warnings. Sure enough, Topher consistently alerted Jason to his dropping blood sugar level.
Not long after they identified this pattern, a television program featuring Diabetic Assist Dogs (also known as DADs), confirmed what they thought was happening — some dogs can predict a change in a person’s blood chemistry by licking their skin. The Millers decided it was time to learn more, and read books that encouraged them to take the next step: getting Topher certified as a DAD.
Topher, now 4 years old, has learned to tap Jason on the knee when his blood sugar drops. The Miller's are hoping Topher will eventually become certified through a local organization that trains Diabetes Assist Dogs. The dogs are trained to recognize and alert people to a particular scent released by the human body, a symptom of dropping or low blood sugar levels.
Topher’s provided relief to Keilee, too. She lovingly talks about him as her most empathetic dog. After receiving a heart transplant several years ago, she now lives with Fibromyalgia, which can cause extreme pain, fatigue, and mood issues. Topher helps her manage these symptoms.
“We’ve been extremely lucky,” Keilee says of the three dogs she’s adopted from AHS. “Our dogs are like our children. We can’t imagine our lives without them.”
It may take Topher a few years before he’s officially certified as a Diabetes Assist Dog, but the Millers know that even without the certification, Topher was born with something special and he’s sharing it with the world around him.