One Person's Trash Is Another Person's Treasure
A little background: Several years ago my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Our world was turned upside down in an instant. As we settled in to our new normal, and as we started learning more about diabetes, management, carbohydrate counting, and helpful tools, we discovered a fairly new (at the time) type of service dog known as the diabetic alert dog (DAD for short). Intrigued, we started to research organizations and learning all we could about these dogs. As lovers of dogs, we thought this might be a great addition to the family, and a helpful tool to help us protect our son. He doesn't feel his lows, and he doesn't wake up when he goes low or has a blood sugar issue in the middle of the night. This creates a very dangerous situation, and especially when he is active, he needs to be constantly monitored.
My wife and I thought it would be amazing if we could find a rescue or shelter dog to train as a DAD. At the time (almost 7 years ago), there were no organizations dedicated to using rescues or shelter dogs for this. There are several solid reasons for that. Not knowing a dogs history could potentially pose a threat in an unknowing situation. Suppose the previous owner was abusive and always wore a yellow uniform to work. One day you are at the grocery store and a man in a yellow uniform comes down the aisle. Your dog gets anxious or nervous or aggressive or could try and flee. Another issue is health guarantees. These dogs have a tremendous amount of training that goes into them, and they are expected to work for many years. Having a healthy dog is imperative, and knowing the history, understanding the lines are important when it comes to things like hips and eyes.
Knowing all of this, my wife and I still had it stuck in our heads that we wanted to try a rescue. We were turned away by several organizations (as it turns out, several of those organizations were only out to scam money or couldn't possibly train a dog to sit) until we came across Canine Hope for Diabetics. Crystal, the head of the organization, also works as an animal control officer. She is around shelters and is saving animals all the time. She offered to keep an eye out for a good dog and was willing to try and train one for us.
That dog wound up being Major. To say he was in rough shape when she found him is an understatement. He was with a gun dog trainer. A very abusive gun dog trainer. When Crystal found him, he was a year and a half old and 35 pounds (he should have been 55+ pounds). Skin and bones, you could see every rib. He was forced to live on a gun dog truck for most of the day with no way to stand up or turn around. A gun dog truck looks like an animal control truck with individual crates for the dogs. The large callouses on his elbows are because he couldn't stand in the truck. His coat was stained by urine from having to pee in that crate. He was only let out for an hour every day. He had issues with his neck from over zealous use of a shock collar. And what did he do to deserve such horrible treatment? He had "hard mouth". He tended to chew on ducks after retrieving them. For that, he would get beaten and shocked. Because of that, he doesn't alert with a bringsel (an alerting tool that looks like a canvas tube) as he is afraid he will be hit. To this day, when playing fetch with a tennis ball (one of the few things he will retrieve now) you can see him chew it as he returns to your side. We are okay with that :) It wasn't until this past year that he finally felt comfortable enough to play tug with me. We never forced that, we allowed it to happen organically while doing something fun of him, dock diving.
If you have followed my other Facebook page, A Guardian Angel For Quin, you know the rest of the story. Child meets dog, child loves dog, dog saves child's life (literally, more than once), and 6 years later, Major is better than ever. As I stated before, using a rescue for service dog work can come with some issues. In Major's case, he shuts down in the car. He rides in the car every day, and happily gets in. The car takes him amazing places like dock diving, trail running, going with his family shopping, or to Nana's pool. But he won't alert in the car. It's too reminiscent of the gun truck. He just curls up and lays down in the back. Night time alerts are also not his strong suit (which led us to Raven, a story for another post), most likely because the truck was always dark. Once you know what the weak points are, you learn to work with them. Regardless of issues, Major has saved Quin on more than 1 occasion, and Quin's diabetes management is better, his health is better, because we have Major in our lives. One person's trash has become our families treasure.
As a person who has shared his whole life with dogs, I always heard stories about that one dog. You know the one, the dog that every other dog will forever be compared to. That one dog that changes the way you feel about animals. That one dog that burrows his way into your heart and leaves such an impression that no other dog will ever fill. I don't know that I ever truly believed in "that one dog", that is until Major.
I love all our dogs. When we brought Major into our family, we had 3 senior dogs that we loved. They were our hiking buddies, 2 were rescues and 1 was snatched from a backyard breeder. But having a service dog is different. These dogs go with you everywhere. They go to the store for milk. They go out to dinner with you. They go on planes and vacations with you. They go to Disneyland with you. They are constant companions. And when we first brought Major into our family, Quin was only 7, so Major was trained to alert to my wife and I. Quin was too young to handle his diabetes management, and still needed us to care for him, make decisions for him, and if Major alerted to him, Major would often be ignored (an easy way to shut down or break your DAD is to ignore their alerts). If there is no confirmation and reward, eventually they will just be really expensive pets, and at that age, Quin didn't really know how to "fix" a blood sugar issue. To this day Major still alerts to us first.
Right about the same time we brought Major into our family, I started running in an effort to get healthy and be here for my family. I had a heart attack at the ripe old age of 38. I started smoking at 11 years old. The heart attack didn't get me to quit. It wasn't until Quin was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 3 years later that I knew I had to change my life. The day I quit smoking, I took my first run. Major happens to love to run, and he makes the world's best running partner. He doesn't care how early it is, how cold it is, if it is raining, how far we go, or where we run. He never cancels on me, and even if I'm not quite feeling up to a run, knowing that he loves it and needs the exercise is often all the motivation I need to get me out of bed and lace up my shoes. Well, that and a cold nose in my side if I don't get out of bed.
It's hard to explain just how much I love this dog. To start with, imagine the love and respect you would have for someone that helped save your child's life. Roll that person into your exercise partner. Now combine him with your favorite companion. A trusted confidant. Someone who knows all your secrets. Someone that loves to curl up with you and read a good book. Someone who helps keep you warm when your sick. He is all those things and more. And he is "that one dog".
I spend as much time with him as I do with the rest of my family (possibly more as he goes with me on every run, several hours and upwards of 35-40 miles each week). On some days he goes with me to work. He is the first one to greet me when I get home, and he is always happy to see me.
And as for his nose? He is a rock star. We have met many DAD teams, and I would put his nose up against anyone. There has only been one other DAD I have met that I thought was as good or better at sensing blood sugar issues. While he has his quirks, and some teams have a stronger obedience background, his nose is amazing. He can alert from great distances, he has pin point accuracy, and he can alert on his person in the middle of a room full of diabetics after eating a meal. As I sit here writing this, he came out of my Quin's room to let me know Quin was high. His BS was 170. Major alerts to blood sugar's that are under 85 and over 165. It still amazes me to this day, and I've seen him do it thousands of times. He can do it sitting in front of a BBQ making bacon while a fan is blowing around the scent from Cinnabon. :) He will alert while Quin is in a barn tacking up his horse, and we are all the way across an arena. Once, while walking up a steep cliffside incline, my son Dash started to slip. Major darted ahead of me and put himself between Dash and the cliff and let Dash catch himself on Major's back. He has saved all of us.
So thank you Major. You mean the world to me and to our family. I can't imagine taking this diabetic journey without you to help keep our child safe. We love you and are thankful and grateful that you found your way into our lives. You keep all of us safe, you keep all of us healthy, and you make us proud. You are amazing. I will never be worthy of all the love you give us. To think that you were someone's trash, not worth their time or effort, hurts my heart. That they have no idea just how amazing you are, and all you needed was kindness, love, and an occasional treat. You have taught us what it means to pay it forward. I love you, Major. You mean the world to me. You are the reason I am even more committed to rescue, knowing that an animal we rescue could go on to be that one animal for someone else, that could enhance or even save someone's life. Because of you, our family has become so much more involved in the dog world, competing in fun sports and obedience work. I have learned so much about dogs and dog training. You have also brought amazing people into our lives.
Major, you never cease to amaze me. And you never, ever need to worry about having a warm, safe place to call home. You are responsible for the old saying, "Who rescued who?". Major, that one dog...