- Type 1 diabetes is a potentially life-threatening condition as the body stops producing insulin, essential for survival.
- A Cape Town woman, Lucy Breytenbach, is training diabetic alert dogs to detect when a person’s sugar levels go dangerously high or low.
- Diabetics donate swabs of their saliva when their sugar levels are low or high – the saliva emits a scent the dog is trained to pick up.
Lucy Breytenbach started her non-profit organisation, Honey’s Garden, two years ago and trains dogs to help people suffering from various medical conditions, including type 1 diabetes, asthma, severe depression and hearing loss.
One such dog is Oakley, a beagle cross border collie, trained to detect when his owner becomes hypoglycemic (sugar levels go too low) or hyperglycemic (sugar levels go too high).
Oakley is currently in training, but six-year-old Christian Fourie hopes to have him permanently by his side by the end of the year.
His family takes the dog home every weekend, and Oakley is trained to wake up Christian’s parents to alert them when his sugar levels aren’t stable.
No other organisation is offering this kind of dog training in South Africa, and Breytenbach learnt the techniques from an American trainer.
“It’s so fulfilling, it’s the reason we get up when it’s pouring with rain. We work the dogs for long hours during the day, we put them through tests, prepare the family, and match the dog according to the family. The dog can’t be an extra burden, the dog must help them, not hinder them,” she said.
“Saying goodbye to them is heart-breaking, but when we see them again, and see how they are working for the families, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Some of the dogs Breytenbach trains are rescues, while others are donated by breeders.
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