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Dog helps LO teen manage his diabetes

by: KRISTEN FORBES Lakeridge High School freshman Jack Daraee has a friend for life in Roger, the service dog that Kristin Tarnowski, pictured, trained to help Daraee manage his diabetes.

Cate Daraee's role in her 14-year-old son Jack's life has always been complex.

Like any great mom, she loves him but doesn't want to smother him. She's happy to step back and watch him grow up. Jack plays soccer and spends time with his friends and likes to get outside and ride his bike and go snowboarding. Cate wants Jack to be happy and feel independent while enjoying his first year at Lakeridge High School. She doesn't want him to feel like she's constantly checking in on him, watching his every move.

On the other hand, checking in on him and watching his every move were often exactly what she needed to do in order to ensure that Jack was OK in the past.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 18 months old, Jack has been living with a disease that requires careful maintenance for the remainder of his life. Until recently, his main source of support in battling diabetes was his parents, Cate and Hafez. It was common for Cate to quiz Jack about the last time he checked his blood sugar, or to rush to his room in the morning to make sure he was fine, or to repeatedly inquire about the state of his health.

'My mom was always like, 'Jack, Jack, Jack,'' said Jack, laughing about his mom's persistence in helping him manage his disease. 'Thanks to Roger, now she doesn't have to.'

Roger is a service dog Jack was matched with in August through a nonprofit group called Dogs Assisting Diabetics. The nonprofit, founded in 2009, is the brainchild of Kristin Tarnowski, a certified professional dog trainer, AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and other professional dog training organizations, and a volunteer and leader with Guide Dogs for the Blind for more than 10 years. Tarnowksi has an undergraduate degree in animal sciences from OSU and a master's degree in education. In addition to running Dogs Assisting Diabetics, she's an elementary teacher at Elizabeth Perry Montessori School.

To most people who know her, though, she's a 'Dog Whisperer.' She knew all of her experience training service dogs to help the blind could be translated to training service dogs to help diabetics. With a sample of the scent of a diabetic, she uses positive reinforcement to train dogs to be able to detect when blood sugar is too low or too high. Now, whenever Jack dips too far either way, Roger signals him by circling around.

Not only is Roger performing a potentially life-saving service for Jack, he's also helping the entire family gain a sense of normalcy. Cate and Hafez, who have dedicated much of their time and many resources to diabetes research since Jack's diagnosis (they raised over $125,000 by putting on Carnival for a Cure in their backyard for seven years), are breathing a big sigh of relief for the first time in more than a decade. In addition to letting Jack know any time his blood sugar level is too high or too low, Roger is trained to ring a doorbell that is connected to the master bedroom. If something ever goes wrong in the middle of the night, Cate and Hafez will be alerted right away and will be able to respond quickly. This doorbell is portable and can be used any time Jack travels out of town. Down the road, it can be used in a car when he learns how to drive.

To say that Roger has changed Jack's life for the better is an understatement, but before the family got to this point Jack first made an impression on Tarnowski and the rest of the Dogs Assisting Diabetics board members. The essay he wrote in his application process convinced the board he needed to be connected with a service dog.

'I told our board members we need to keep Jack's essay as a reminder of why we're doing what we're doing,' says Tarnowski. 'One thing in the essay that really stood out was when he said he really wants a dog because he feels that for the first time in his life, he'll really feel safe. For me, that tore at my heart. I think it's a fundamental need of a child to feel safe. When you have a child who doesn't feel safe because he doesn't want to go to sleep, that's really impacting his ability to function. That gets to the whole root of what we're doing. These dogs are not just helping with the blood sugar. They're providing an important emotional bond and helping them function and deal with the diabetes.'

Dogs Assisting Diabetics is the first program of its kind in Oregon. Jack and three other children (from Forest Grove, Yamhill and Portland), all younger than 14, were recently matched with service dogs who have been trained to accompany them everywhere, including school. Dogs use their 220 million olfactory receptors (as opposed to humans' 5 million) to detect blood sugar levels. Dogs Assisting Diabetics dogs are more accurate than a glucometer, the instrument used to measure blood glucose numbers, and are about 20 minutes ahead of the machine when it comes to detecting blood glucose level.

For Cate, the addition of Roger into her family's life is priceless. Roger's role in helping Jack manage his disease is vital, and his role in easing Cate's mind is enormous.

'For 13 years, there hasn't been a moment of feeling settled,' Cate says. 'It's not the worst thing that could have happened. It's a manageable disease. But in the last couple of weeks, I've had moments of, 'Oh. Jack's home alone and that's OK.' He's very responsible, but he's also 14. He could be watching TV or doing whatever, but now I know he has someone paying attention and making sure he doesn't miss anything. And as long as he manages it, he's fine. If he doesn't, he can die. That's the reality and that's how Roger is able to help him. This is a mutually rewarding and beneficial relationship.'

Dogs Assisting Diabetics is entirely volunteer-run. Tax-deductible donations, fundraising ideas, dog food sponsors, toys, pet store and medical donations are always welcome. To find out more, visit www.dogsassisting

diabetics.com/Dogs_Assisting_Diabetics/Welcome.html

Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .