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For Sonoma County diabetics, alert dogs offer keen nose for sugar needs

  • Dr. Steven Wolf and Kermit, his diabetic alert service dog, during a diabetes information seminar sponsored by Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, Novo Nordisk and Medtronic at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa on Nov. 14, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Steve Wolf, a Santa Rosa family practice physician, is a diabetic who has hypoglycemic unawareness, meaning he does not sense the symptoms, such as shakiness, sweating and weakness, of a plunging blood sugar level.

Kermit, a yellow Labrador diabetic alert dog trained to warn Wolf of such episodes — frequent for an insulin-dependent diabetic — is also proficient at intelligent disobedience, meaning he can ignore his master's commands when his nose knows better.

Together, they are a perfect pair, as Wolf discovered on the first day with Kermit in March 2012.

Diabetic Alert Service Dogs

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At a World Diabetes Day program on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Wolf recalled that morning, when he was leaving home in Windsor and Kermit refused to get into the car.

Wolf quickly checked his blood sugar level, testing a drop of blood in a small glucometer, and found it was 60 milligrams per deciliter, well below the preferred range of 80 to 130.

“The very first day I had him he saved my life,” Wolf told an audience of about 80 people.

Before he got Kermit, Wolf's blood sugar had once plummeted to 40 while he driving south on Highway 101 and managed to pull off the highway safely.

“I couldn't remember how to shift my car,” he said.

Ingesting sugar or simple carbohydrates restores a diabetic's blood sugar level, but knowing when to do it can be a matter of life and death.

At an earlier session Thursday, world-class triathlete Jay Hewitt recounted how he gets through a 140-mile swim, bike and run Ironman competition with diabetes.

“I never forget during the Ironman that I have diabetes,” said Hewitt, 46, a former member of the U.S. national triathlon team. “I forget they (the other athletes) don't.”

Checking his blood sugar in the transition moments between swimming, cycling and running — and several times during the 26-mile marathon — Hewitt said he keeps his blood sugar between 100 and 150 by eating and drinking on the move.

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