I’ve gotten some questions recently about Il Service Doggo Extraordinario, AKA Mickey, soon to make his NYC debut, and figured I’d explain The Origin Story.
I first learned about Diabetes Alert Dogs a few months after I was diagnosed—while I wasn’t at all ready to consider the option for myself, I quietly filed it away in the depths of my brain. In the meantime, I slowly adapted to life with diabetes, my new normal, etc. As I explained in my previous post, while some things about having diabetes got easier—I learned how to carb count, use a glucometer, etc., others remained imposing, even became more frightening and challenging as the true nature of their awfulness came into focus.
Chief among these was the stress and anxiety of overnight lows (and highs). I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve slept straight through the night since I got diabetes—I’m up constantly, either because of Dexcom alarms, having to pee, or a low so terrible that it wrenches me awake in a kind of bizarre, exhausted agony. Although Dexcom has been a lifesaver for overnights, its limitations are obvious: it’s not always right, it can lose signal or malfunction, it does a bad job catching slow drops or really really quick ones, and it’s on a 10-20 minute delay. As such, we started to discuss other ways to bolster our defenses in the overnight hours. Because I really don’t want to die in my sleep.
Slowly, the concept of getting an alert dog—one who is trained, among other things, to wake me up if he smells that my blood sugar is out of whack overnight—worked its way into the conversation. Stefan and I are HUGE dog people, and have discussed getting one from the start of our relationship. And, blah blah blah, (you already read about this) we ultimately decided to go for it.
But where to begin?
First off, I researched the different entities that train DSDs (diabetes service dogs). I also spoke to tons of folks who have or had DSDs, and peppered them with tons and tons of questions. The two main channels for getting a DSD appeared to be organizations/companies or private trainers. Based on the research I did there seemed to be benefits and risks to both—private trainers might (potentially?) offer more in-depth or personalized service, whereas organizations might potentially have a more robust track record. Ultimately, though, after more research I realized that distinction felt like a wash—there was no shortage of private trainers with great track records, and the organization we wound up going with has offered Mickey tons of in-depth, personalized training.
We picked Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, who are based in Las Vegas—it would have been nice to find an organization a bit closer to home, but of all the places I spoke with, I just got the best feeling from them. That’s entirely an intuition thing, and the good news there is that I’m sure that any of the places I spoke with would have done a fine job. I’ll be honest, another reason we’re going with them is that service dogs aren’t cheap, and their price was one that we felt most comfortable with. (If you’re thinking of getting a dog and want to talk price feel free to contact me privately.)
After we sent in our deposit (in April 2017), we were added to their wait list. They asked what kind of dog we want (they train anything in the Sporting Group), as well as if we had color or gender preferences. The challenge here for me is that I also have an ever-so-slight allergy to dogs, so I needed one that would be more hypoallergenic. That involved more research—a poodle would have been an option, but we were most excited about a goldendoodle or a labradoodle : a mix between a golden retriever/lab and a poodle. Turns out, there’s tons of different kinds of doodles, depending on what percentage poodle vs. lab/golden they are. After speaking with some breeders, we thought an F1B (75% poodle, 25% lab/golden) would be a good hypoallergenic fit.
But of course, there’s no way to really know unless you interact with the dog. As such, I cold-emailed the Goldendoodle Association of North America and explained my (weird) deal: I was from New York, I was considering getting a service dog, I had an allergy and had been told an F1B might be a good fit. Rather brashly, I asked if they could connect me with any local breeders who might be willing to let me stop by and play with their dogs. I didn’t necessarily expect a response, but within a few hours I got one from a local breeder who gave me the name of about 10 different former clients of hers who had F1B goldens and would probably be willing to let me visit them. Thanks GANA!
And so, Stefan and I found ourselves driving an hour north of the city one Sunday afternoon, where we were welcomed into the house of extremely kind strangers and allowed to play with their dogs for an hour. And it went great! I had no allergic reaction!
I called back the trainers and told them that I didn’t care about color or gender, but to put me on the wait list for an F1B doodle.
And then, we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, about three months later in August, we got a call on a Friday night. They had found a dog for us (!) and he was ours if we wanted him. I was directed to an online album full of pictures of the sweetest little pup I’d ever seen. Did we want him? DID WE WANT HIM?!
The trainers told me he was “brave,” apparently a crucial characteristic in a future DSD (!!!). He’s also an “apricot,” referring to his darker color, apparently rare among Goldendoodles.
He was also an F1B.
We wanted him. We had the weekend to think of a name (the trainers wouldn’t use one in the meantime), and then his training would commence.