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Do you know that there is an alternative method to detect diabetes? It's the family dog! In recent years, diabetes alert dogs have become an essential healthcare element for many people. As diabetes rates increase — and we become more aware of how dogs can help those who have the disease — the importance and value of diabetes alert dogs grows.

Diabetes Detectors

That value became very real to Robert McVey of Stuart, Iowa. When he was diagnosed in 2012 with type 2 diabetes, he was devastated. His father and grandmother had the disease, and he had lost his grandmother to diabetes-related complications. Despite his familiarity with diabetes, McVey struggled with treatment options. He had allergic reactions to some of his medicines and others were simply ineffective. After about nine months, his doctor — Dr. Anuj Bhargava, an endocrinologist with the Iowa Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at Mercy Medical Center — suggested he work with a diabetes alert dog (DAD).

Lesli ---Austin -working -on -Scent -Board

It was a smart suggestion. Dogs can be trained to sniff out the biochemical reactions that accompany any rapid rise or drop in their human's blood glucose levels, which allows the person to get appropriate treatment well before it becomes an emergency.

A Costly Alternative

A smart suggestion, perhaps, but also an expensive one. McVey found out that there were no trainers or breeders of DADs in Iowa, and those he did find had an asking price of between $9,000 and $25,000. What's more, each one of those dogs had a waiting list at least 25 patients long.

This disproportionate patient-to-dog ratio inspired McVey, who had previous experience as an obedience trainer, to train diabetes dogs himself. Since his wife, Lesli, had helped run an animal shelter, he knew she could also help.

Training Austin

Robert and Lesli adopted a seven-week-old Labrador-Weimaraner mix, whom they named Austin, and promptly started his scent training. Using blood samples with high, normal, and low sugar levels, they trained him to lick McVey's face whenever he smelled blood sugar levels outside of the normal range. In fact, according to McVey, Austin was licking his face on cue even before he'd gotten to that part of his training.


The McVeys were so pleased with how effective their project was that they decided to offer it to others. "As we started the training, we thought, 'Why can't we do this for other folks?'" McVey said — and so they did.

Paws 4 Life, a training center for DADs, was born. They quickly passed the rigorous regulations to become a nonprofit organization — a very important detail for them. Their goal was never to profit, but instead to help people in situations similar to their own. "Money's not important," Leslie said. "People's health and the dogs are important."


To date, Paws 4 Life and other websites offering the services of diabetes alert dogs have helped countless people suffering from diabetes. Located around the country, these organizations are a crucial part of the crusade for this alternative therapy. Fortunately, the future couldn't be brighter for these programs.

Have you been helped by a diabetes alert dog or know someone who has? Let us know in the comments!



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