Service animals have been known to help people in different ways. Whether that’s through helping blind people navigate the streets or assisting veterans of war with PTSD, service dogs have proven to be capable of aiding humans through their extraordinary abilities.
While most people are familiar with the ability dogs have to help people who are blind or help those with PSTD, service dogs can be trained to help those with diabetes.
Gina Pergolizzi, a junior nursing major at Gannon University, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 5. Ever since, she has had to monitor her lifestyle in a healthy way to combat the disease.
As member of the Gannon acrobatics and tumbling team, Pergolizzi is an athletic person who makes every effort to live a healthy lifestyle. However, when the daily task of monitoring her blood sugar levels became a challenge, she was introduced to Bear, a male black lab.
Bear has the ability to detect rises in blood sugar before they get to dangerous levels, alerting Pergolizzi if her levels reach less than 80 and higher than 160.
Bear is able to detect this through scent, smelling the blood sugar levels through sweat and saliva. When alerted, Bear will paw at Pergolizzi to tell her to check her blood sugar.
According to Pergolizzi, the scent training for Bear was done in Las Vegas where the company that provides the service dogs is located. Bear learned how to pick up the scent in eight months.
Bear was trained to identify the different levels of blood sugar through Pergolizzi sending the company samples of her saliva from different levels of blood sugar. From here, Bear was placed in different locations that provided distractions to train him for the real world.
Most of these locations included high populated areas like malls, Walmart, etc. Here Bear was told to identify the different blood levels and to indicate which ones were healthy and which ones were not, all the while being placed in settings that had many distractions.
After being trained, Bear was sent to Pergolizzi in Tampa, Fla., where the two got aquainted before heading up to Erie for the school year.
“The process of getting Bear was very customized,” said Pergolizzi. “Because I am active, I was given a male dog.”
The company that provided Pergolizzi with Bear chose a male dog for her because female service dogs are reserved for people who have a less active life, and who are not on the go at all times. According to Pergolizzi, this is due to female service dogs being more laid back than male service dogs.
With Bear being a service animal, he has a lot of responsibility. When on the job, he’ll wear a vest warning people to not pet or distract him. “While he was trained to ignore people while on the job, sometimes people will come up and try to pet him,” Pergolizzi says. “A lot of people are good about it, but it’s usually children that try to pet him.”
While Bear is a trained service dog with the responsibility of helping Pergolizzi, he still enjoys doing normal dog activities. “He loves swimming and anything that’s outdoors or involves running,” says Pergolizzi. “He’s also a big fan of naps, which we can both agree on.”
By Gabe Fulgenzio