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United at last: Peyton gets his diabetes alert dog

Staff Writer

SUN photo/Shanti Johnson Peyton Frank with his new diabetes alert dog, Commander. Commander is specially trained to alert Frank to test his blood sugar when it becomes too high or too low.

SUN photo/Shanti Johnson
Peyton Frank with his new diabetes alert dog, Commander. Commander is specially trained to alert Frank to test his blood sugar when it becomes too high or too low.

Peyton Frank, a 7 year old with Brittle Type 1 Diabetes, walked through the Pagosa Springs Medical Center doors Monday morning with his new companion Commander, a specially trained diabetic alert dog.

Frank and Commander were followed by an entourage of family, friends and hospital staff who had come to see the dog they had all worked so hard to bring to Pagosa.

Coming together

Frank’s mother, Ausha Bishop, said that the family started the process of trying to get Frank an alert dog last September. The family reached out to the Pagosa community for support and help to raise the $25,000 needed.

The community sprang into action, hosting fundraisers and benefit exercise classes, selling burritos and other goodies, buying customized bracelets, wearing shirts to support the cause and many other activities to raise the funds.

The PSMC was also a significant contributor, ultimately donating $2,500 to the campaign.

On Dec. 19, Tiffany Wilkins, Frank’s former childcare provider, posted on the fundraising Facebook page, “Well it’s official the $25,000.00 goal for A Diabetic Alert Dog for Peyton has been reached!! … They are on the waiting list for the pup to be born and trained!!”

The family received a call right around Christmas Eve that a Labrador tetriever named Commander was available to begin training to become a diabetes alert dog for Frank.

Training

The nonprofit organization responsible for the program, Service Dogs By Warren Retrievers, based in Virginia, works very closely with diabetic individuals and their family during the training process.

Warren Retrievers has developed a scent training protocol that teaches dogs to hone in on the scent of their human charge and to detect when their charge’s blood sugar is either too high or too low, or when blood sugar levels are rapidly falling.

The amazing thing is, based on scent alone, these highly trained dogs can sense and alert the individual about dangerous blood sugar levels up to 45 minutes before levels could be tested on a strip.

For children like Frank, whose condition can lead to rapid, extreme and unpredictable hypoglycemic and/or hyperglycemic episodes, an alert dog can be a critical component in keeping them stable, healthy and even saving their life.

Plus, the dogs provide unconditional support and companionship for children living with such a difficult and demanding condition.

United at last

Commander, Frank’s personally trained, 7-month-old, diabetic alert dog, flew in from Virginia last Sunday with his trainer, Erin Coulter, to meet Frank for the first time.

Bishop said that within 15 minutes of Commander and Frank meeting Monday morning, Commander was already alerting them when Frank needed to check his blood sugar levels.

The dogs are trained to alert individuals and their caregivers by, in Commander’s case, putting a paw on their knee to let them know that blood sugar levels are out of balance and they need to perform a test.

During their brief time in the hospital, Commander notified trainer Coulter that Frank needed to check his blood sugar.

The crowd of surrounding friends and family watched in silence, many with tears streaming down their faces, as Commander alerted, Frank tested and a high blood sugar reading resulted.

Bishop and Frank showered Commander with praise and  treats, all part of the continuing training process, saying over and over again, “Good high, good high,” as they stroked his head.

Coulter said eventually Commander can be trained to give different alerts for high versus low blood sugar levels, if the family desires.

Commander’s alerts will become even more accurate the longer he stays with Frank and becomes accustomed to Frank’s personal scent.

With gratitude

Health district CEO Brad Cochennet was one of the many who turned out to see Frank and Commander while they were at PSMC. He talked to Frank about his new dog and thanked everyone there for making the union happen.

The family also spoke out with gratitude, saying they would like to thank the community for all of their support in bringing Frank and Commander together.

“We are so thankful for everyone helping out,” Bishop said.

Commander and Frank entered into a partnership for life on Monday. The two will continue to grow together, enriching each other’s lives and working together to keep Frank stable and healthy.

In the words of Warren Retrievers, “Until there’s a cure, there’s a dog.”

shanti.johnson@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on April 17, 2014.