James Leech explains the pros and cons of a diabetic alert dog in the South African setting.
What is a diabetic alert dog?
A diabetic alert dog is a guide/service/assistance dog trained to detect high or low levels of blood sugar in humans with diabetes. These dogs then alert their owners to dangerous changes in blood glucose levels.
South African setting
A service dog is an amazing resource. Diabetic alert dogs, in many cases, perform better and are more advantageous than diabetic alert equipment. The idea and novelty is amazing. However, in South Africa, you really need to identify the pros and cons if it is really worth investing in one for the following reasons:
Training programme and suitable match
Having a dog qualify to become a service dog is the equivalent to applying to the South African Special Forces. From all the entrants, there is a very low conversion rate.
This is not because the dogs were not of amazing calibre but because one must first assess: the dog’s traits, training ability, environment they will be going into, and whether the dog will be a suitable match to the owner.
Watch this video. It gives a full account of potential issues including the trainer’s personal bias.
Enforcement and support of the law
The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (PEPUDA or the Equality Act, Act No. 4 of 2000) is a comprehensive South African anti-discrimination law. It prohibits unfair discrimination by the government, private organisations and individuals and forbids hate speech and harassment. A powerful and supportive piece of legislation. I have used it several times in court applications in protecting the rights of my service dog usage.
The cultural rainbow of South Africa
In South Africa, there is a fairly large subset of the population with a fear of dogs. Adding to that, certain religious objections to dogs being within a home environment or public spaces.
In South Africa, typically, if you are not visibly blind, i.e. a cane, sunglasses and a guide dog in a full uniform and accessories, you are likely to encounter resistance.
This is a cultural and retail training issue. For example, a decade ago, when I was helping in difficult cases for the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind, an incident occurred. A woman went to a government bank. She was 90% blind and had a guide dog. However, she didn’t look the typical biased view of a blind person.
The security personal stopped her, continually berated her, bringing her to tears on the floor. Her guide dog starts barking and causing a further scene. None of this ended happily in the end.
After hearing this story and many others I was the first in South Africa to develop a certificate, issued by the court, that can be carried by special service dog carriers, acting as a proxy medium of assistance.
This document greatly helps but one still encounters resistance in needing to approach the courts. I highly recommend you have money saved aside to hire an advocate (not attorney) in handling these matters on your behalf, as it can be great stress undertaking it on your own when you are not familiar with the system.
If you are fortunate enough to have a guide/service/assistance dog, they can provide an amazing blessing. In the picture (above) is my non-nativeelectromagnetic fields (nnEMF) service dog, Pebble and one of my children.
I have electromagnetic field intolerance syndrome (EMFIS). She picks up when my tolerance to the radiation in the environment is low, and/or when causing a neurological and functional impairment she helps me navigate through the space.
From my personal point of view, if I didn’t have to have a service dog, I would prefer not to. The obstacles one faces in terms of unfair discrimination, unwanted attention, questions and hoops having to jump through can be taxing.
However, in my circumstances, I am blessed that she is able to do her job in aiding me in certain environments and helping provide added independence.
Getting her was a family choice based on our circumstances. It was deemed unfair to rely on my wife and three children in assisting me for the rest of my life. Plus, it is more reasonable to have Pebble as an assistive aid to improving the quality of life for all of us.
Do not get a diabetic alert dog because it sounds and looks cool. First, take all steps to treat the epigenetic disease of Type 1, 1,5, 2 or 3 diabetes.
Once it is well-managed and depending on your circumstances, and environmental exposures, if needed, then consider getting investing the time, money and patience into one.
List to my podcast [ jameslech.co.za/podcasts/] ep 31 – How SARS helps with my service dog – Disability Tax Incentives
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James Lech is a consulting scientist to doctors, architects and attorneys. He is a doctoral candidate in sub-molecular medicine/ biophysics and a contracted agent of national government in novel research and solutions.