Training for life-saving

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Mr. Darby is more than just a pet to Abi Thornton, he’s her lifeline.
Abi, a 16-year-old from Aberdeen, has Type 1 diabetes. Because she is hypoglycemic, she doesn’t know when her blood sugar drops to dangerous levels. Lucky for her, Mr. Darby does.
“When my blood sugar gets low he alerts me so I can check it before it’s too late,” said Abi. “He always knows before I do. He saves my life because if my sugar gets too low I have seizures and that’s not good. Without Mr. Darby I’d be in trouble.”
Mr. Darby and his owner were one of 50 owner-and-dog teams that attended a training session for diabetic alert dogs at Wildrose Kennels in Oxford on Saturday.
Kennel owner Mike Stewart played host to the training. He recently started training diabetic alert dogs at his kennel and felt bringing in people suffering from diabetes, their pets and trainers would be a good way to share information and get in some training about the life-saving dogs.
“This is the first conference in the nation that brings everyone together to learn,” said Stewart. “These animals are very important to their owners and they need to know how to train them, but they all can’t go to Kentucky or California where the trainers are. So we felt bringing everyone here would be better.”

Making life easier
Rita Martinez is the owner of Clickin K-9s in California and is one of the trainers.
“Without these dogs the options for people are to check their sugar 40 times a day to make sure everything is fine. That’s just a lot to have to do,” Martinez said. “But these dogs can be trained to alert the owner without them having to do anything. They often know their owner’s sugar is low before the test can tell. So this is a life-saver.”
It’s especially true for younger children, Martinez said.
“Parents would have to constantly check their kids’ blood sugar while they slept,” she said. “They have to get up several times a night to check it or it could get too low. With the dogs, they don’t have to. The dog does it for them.”
Thornton said when her sugar drops while she’s sleeping, Mr. Darby tries to wake her. If that doesn’t work, he wakes her mother.

Type of dogs
Stewart said any dog with a keen sense of smell and a good temperament can be trained to be a diabetic alert dog. A dog’s sense of smell is about 100 times stronger than a human’s, according to Stewart. When a person’s sugar is low or high they can smell it, often more than 30 minutes before it would show up on a test.
Dogs like Mr. Darby, a British Labrador Retriever, are great as diabetic alert dogs, said Stewart.
However, having a dog trained for detection is costly. Training starts when a puppy is just weeks old. Stewart said a 6-month-old dog fully trained will run about $5,000.
But, he hopes to create a scholarship fund that will help children and adults apply for financial assistance to get the training.
After a long morning of training in the hot sun, Mr. Darby showed his worth to Abi. As he tugged on the blue stick Abi held, she knew it was time to eat.
“When he does that it means I need to check my sugar,” she said. “It’s definitely low, so I have to eat. Good boy!”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or

Click video to hear audio