Monday, 15 August 2022
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Hanover girl’s service dog sniffs out bad blood sugar

HANOVER – You may or may not notice the glucose sensor or insulin pump infusion site on 7-year-old Jillian Galvin, depending on the day. You will notice, however, the black Lab by her side that plays an equally as important role in the treatment of her diabetes.

Jillian was diagnosed at age 2 with Type 1 Diabetes, which is often referred to as juvenile diabetes. The blood sugar battle is an all-day, every day, uphill climb.

While Jillian’s mother Jen can’t remember where she first heard of the book, “Elle & Coach: Diabetes, the Fight for My Daughter’s Life and the Dog who Changed Everything,” she wasn’t able to put it down once she began to read it.

“Their whole story was just like what we were going through,” she said. “It talked about what it was like with her other children and every time I would read it, it was just like us and our situation. They got the dog from the same place that we ended up getting ours from.”

According to Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, low and high blood sugar levels release chemicals in the body that have a distinct odor that is undetectable by humans. The dogs are trained to detect the odors and will move to alert their owner their blood sugar is too high or too low.

After discussing the idea of a diabetic service dog with her husband John, the Galvin’s were put on a waiting list for more than 2 years. The paperwork was grueling, according to Jen, as they had to answer a litany of questions about Jillian, her behavior, what their home is like, if they had other pets, notes from her doctor and references from staff at Center School, where Jillian attends.

The main reason for wanting a service dog for Jillian was to keep an eye on her while she slept in order to prevent blood sugar spikes in either direction, Jen said.

They originally didn’t plan for the dog to go to school with Jillian, but the trainers assured them that once the training was completed, the bond between them would be strong enough for them to be around each other all day.

Once they were selected, the whole family, which also includes son John and daughter Haley, headed out to Kansas in March 2018 to begin a week of training. They were one of 19 families from across the country. From the second the training began, Jen and John looked at each other with a reassuring nonverbal, “this is going to work.”

Jen said, minimum-security prisoners are taught to train the dogs. All of the 19 families went to a penitentiary to see the training firsthand.

“They train the dogs since they are puppies and there are some that they turn away because they aren’t good fits,” said Jen. “Labs are some of the top picks for alert dogs. It really was like a classroom and we all had notebooks. We all had to learn the commands and for her to walk out of a door, Jillian has to give a command. She had to practice that a lot.”

The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is  the pancreas of a Type 1 diabetic does not work at all and they are required to take insulin either through injections or with an insulin pump.

The pancreas of a Type 2 diabetic doesn’t work at full capacity, either producing too little or too much. There are several ways to treat Type 2 and each case is different. Losing weight, medication, diet, regular exercise or injecting insulin in some cases can treat or eliminate Type 2 diabetes.

In Jillian’s case, several times during her first year, Jen told Jillian’s pediatrician that she thought something may be seriously wrong, as her fussiness was never-ending, she couldn’t be nursed enough and her frequent urination was alarming.

Jillian’s health took a turn for the worse during a February 2012 snowstorm. Not willing to take any chances, Jen took her to a doctor and asked her to be checked for diabetes.

Her level of ketoacidosis, a buildup of acid in a diabetic’s blood, was at a nearly fatal level.

Some newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics can enter the “honeymoon phase,” which is when the pancreas still emits a small amount of insulin from time to time. Normally, Type 1 diabetics can’t survive more than a couple of weeks without insulin, but Jillian was most likely in that phase, although it is uncertain.

From age 2 to 4, Jillian was on a minimum of three shots of insulin each day and took more, depending on high blood sugars and if she ate more food than normal. At age 4-and-a-half, she began using an insulin pump, which allows for more flexibility with how much food she can eat and doesn’t require set times she’s required to eat.

“As hard as things are with diabetes, it’s something you learn to live with and doesn’t stop us,” said Jen. “There are some days when she can’t take the bus with her blood sugar being too high or low and I drive her and wait with her until her blood sugar goes back to normal.”

Contact Adam Silva at


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