Changed lives shared in ‘Lifesaving Labradors’

Wildrose Kennels in Oxford is world famous for its British line of Labrador retrievers, trained as sporting dogs, including official mascots of Ducks Unlimited. In recent years, though, Wildrose has begun providing dogs for a wholly higher purpose.
“Lifesaving Labradors: Stories from Families with Diabetic Alert Dogs” shares how the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes have been enhanced – even saved – by the presence of Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs). The dogs have the uncanny ability to anticipate the blood sugar swings that can thrust Type 1 diabetics into confusion, coma and even death.
The stories are firsthand accounts from people who live with (and, in a real way, because of) such dogs. The narratives were edited into a nearly seamless narrative by University of Mississippi professor Ben McClelland. They present an inside view of the devastating illness and show how people used trained service dogs to help manage it.
“The stories are both heartwarming and highly informative about the actual lives of Type 1 diabetics – and the way they use dogs as medical assistants,” said McClelland, who joined the Wildrose Kennels staff during a 2011 sabbatical and continues to work with it part-time.
Wildrose owner Mike Stewart wrote in the foreword that he has spent a lifetime training dogs as companions, game retrievers and adventurers but that none of it has been as rewarding as his involvement with DADs.
“It is one thing to train a dog to bring back a game bird that would have otherwise been lost,” he wrote. “It’s quite another to participate in developing a canine that possesses the ability to save a life – or at the very least to help a person become more independent and enjoy the confidence to lead a normal life. That is the mission of the Wildrose DAD.”
One author, Abi Thornton Atkinson, wrote of her transformation from a frequently ill teen dependent on her family to a poised and independent college student, career woman and wife (and now a mother) with the help of a Wildrose pup whose name, ‘Mr. Darcy,’ was inspired by her favorite book, ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
“You see, in the book, Mr Darcy is always behind the scenes fixing everyone’s problems. No one knows that ‘Mr. Darcy’ is the one who is making everything okay, but he is the one responsible for everything going the right way,” Atkinson wrote.
Because of her dog’s incredible skill at sniffing out Atkinson’s aberrant body chemistry, she added, “I never had to leave a classroom, miss a lecture, or turn in a late homework assignment. He would always alert before my blood sugar got dangerously low so that I could just drink a juice box as I was in class. He made college with diabetes a possibility for me.”
Another author, Sharon Stinson, wrote about her dog Gracie pinpointing not only Stinson’s blood-glucose swings but other people’s as well.
“Once, when my mother-in-law was visiting, ‘Gracie’ got my meter and dropped it in her lap,” Stinson wrote. “My mother-in-law looked at me and said, ‘I don’t have diabetes.’ I suggested that she go to her doctor and get checked out. When she did, her doctor found her blood sugar at 250. She has Type 2 diabetes.
“Another time when Gracie and I were shopping in a clothing store, ‘Gracie’ nudged another lady with her nose,” Stinson added. “I said, ‘Pardon me, but do you have blood sugar problems?’ The lady said that she didn’t, but that she had a doctor’s visit scheduled soon and she would have him check. I gave the lady my telephone number and asked her to please call me after her doctor’s visit. A few days later she called me. It was a Friday night. She said, ‘You won’t believe this, but my doctor told me that I am diabetic.’”
Other stories from authors as far-flung as New York, Texas, Georgia and Colorado abound with the dogs’ amazing skills, tenacity and love, all put to use for the benefit of their owners.
“We worked to emphasize those aspects of each person’s story that were unique to him or her,” McClelland said. “We tried to keep each story’s focus on the diabetics, the impact of the disease on their families and, of course, on their diabetic alert dogs (DADs).”
Both McClelland and each of the authors are donating all book royalties to the Wildrose Service Dog Foundation, which is housed at the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo. The diabetic alert dog program is a not-for-profit entity at Wildrose.

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About Errol Castens

I'm a news reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Focusing on Oxford and Lafayette County, I've been a part of the L-O-U community since 1991.