Rachel & Grace are pictured here with Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, when they were Washington, D.C. for Grace's participation in the annual JDRF Children's Congress. They also met Senator Jeanne Shaheen, mother and grandmother of Stefany and Elle Shaheen.
Elle & Coach, the Fight for My Daughter's Life, and the Dog Who Changed Everything, by Stefany Shaheen When reading this book, I was struck by how similar Stefany's story was to the one related to me by Rachel, Grace's mother (See below). Grace and her family were my first experience with Type I diabetes, and taught me most of what I know about the impact Type I can have on a child's life and that of her family'.
Rachel's review of Elle & Coach:
Elle & Coach, is a riveting story about a mom whose desperation is so relatable when she learns her daughter has Type I diabetes. Faced with a scary, unpredictable and potentially deadly disease, type A mom Stephany, tries to control an uncontrollable threat to her daughter's well-being in every way she can.
Eventually Stefany's research brings her to the unlikely possibility of a diabetes alert dog. Their skepticism soon turned to hope when they met Coach, and within hours he was bonding with and even alerting to Elle's low blood sugar.
As a mom of a teen Type I myself, the most striking scene was when Coach began waking Elle at night to low blood sugar alerts, without her parents' involvement - literally a life changing moment. It's beautiful to see the relationship grow between Elle and Coach, and witness the incredible abilities of a medical alert dog.
Through their struggles and triumphs, Elle and Coach form a bond that is so admirable and really seems to be much more than coincidence that they were paired together. It truly is a story of hope for not only parents of children with chronic illness, but anyone who believes in the hope that animals bring into our lives.
Coach was trained by CARES, Inc. They provide "quality services for persons with disabilities." At least some of their dogs come from a prison system in which selected inmates train dogs that have been specifically chosen as possible future service dogs. CARES provides not only Diabetic Alert Dogs, but dogs for multiple disabilities, and they are provided at a very reasonable cost.
Harperwas rescued from a shelter by Aryn, a wife and mother of two little girls. Aryn had been diganosed with Type I diabetes as a teenager, and had wanted a Diabetic Alert Dog (D.A.D.) for a long time. Her husband wasn't sure a dog would fit in, especially with their resident cat. But persuasive Aryn finally won him over and they adopted Harper, a young Lab mix, and me as their service dog trainer.
Harper quickly picked up on alerting Aryn when her glucose levels were high or low. In less than a week, and within a month of being adopted by Aryn, Harper learned to go to a cupboard, open the cupboard door, take a juice box in her mouth, and then take the juice box to Aryn.
Harper was too dog-dog reactive to reliably accompany Aryn in public, but Aryn's hope had been for a dog that would alert her at home while she concentrated on work or played with her children. She had never felt the need for a dog that would accompany her everywhere.
Harper, while still a work in progress, has been a success. She alerts pretty consistantly, (no dog is 100%,) and her family adores her. Even Aryn's husband Ben, who had never had a dog and was reluctant to get one, has fallen for Harper. Harper seemed to know instinctively who she had to win over when Ben went to meet Harper at the shelter. She sat down in front of Ben and looked up at him with those big brown eyes like she had just found the human of her dreams. He was sold. Harper the D.A.D. made Dad into a dog lover! Along with Aryn's two little girls, who adore Harper, even the cat finds Harper the D.A.D. not so bad!
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Dianne first contacted me in December of 2014. She was moving from a house to an apartment and was going to have to give up her dog, a soon-to-be five year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, named Mello. But Dianne had some mobility problems and heart issues, and wondered if Mello could be taught to help with those problems in order to become a legitimate mobility service dog.
The three of us had our initial meeting on December 30th, 2014. Mello turned out to be appropriately named as he was a wonderfully sweet, laid back. intelligent and very mellow dog, wonderful traits for a service dog. Dianne had been told that Mello was too old to be trained as a service dog, so I asked Dianne if she was prepared to put a whole lot of time and effort into a dog that might not be able to serve as a mobility dog for more than five years, or even less depending on what she needed Mello to do. She was.
Dianne got a letter from her doctor stating that she would indeed benefit by having a service dog. I then wrote a letter to the association governing the apartment building into which Dianne was moving, explaining that Mello was a service dog in-training, with me as his trainer. I told them the kinds of things Mello would be learning, and assured them that Mello would be one of, if not the best behaved dog in their building, despite his being fifty pounds over their weight limit for dogs. I also referred them to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs service dog regulations for both business owners and service dog handlers. The apartment association agreed to let Mellow live in their building. Yea!
So we went to work. Dianne and Mello quickly learned to go politely in and out of public places. Dianne learned how to handle a grocery cart with Mello in tow, and walk him down aisles crowded with people. Dianne learned how to be vigilant in watching for distractions that might cause Mello to lose his focus, and how to redirect his attention. We made sure that Mello was proficient in all of his basic obedience commands. While all of this training was going on, we started teaching Mello the services he would need to perform for Dianne, in order to qualify as a bonafide service dog.
Even with both Dianne and Mello experiencing some medical problems that slowed their training, they were able to pass the Public Access Test on Sunday, November 8th, 2015. On November 27th, they passed their Canine Good Citizen test. Both tests with completed with perfect scores and in less than a year from their start date. (The tests were administered by a qualified tester from a service dog training group.)
Dianne and Mello were perfect candidates for service dog training. Dianne fully understood that service dog training, to be successful, had to be an ongoing priority. She was committed to keeping up Mello's training for as long as he served her.
Mello and Dianne continue to live in their apartment, and can be seen all over the Quad Cities, setting a great example of what successful service dog teams should be. Mello is technically a senior dog now, but stays by Diane's side, ready to steady and help her according to his training. He may be slowing down a little, but Dianne says she is too, so they still make a great team.