I teamed up with my hypoglycemia alert service dog, Norm, in March 2010. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Norm is the first dog I’ve ever lived with and the quality of life he gave me surprised me. He was trained to smell and alert me when my blood sugar dropped below 100 mg/dL (5.6).
This service, in itself, brought me many benefits. During the 6 months we trained as a team and worked toward a threshold of statistical success that would makes us eligible for graduation. We graduated in November of 2010.
When Norm was first placed with me, I still went to work every day. I worked in a commercial airline avionics shop. Norm camped out next to my work bench, ever-ready to raise his alert and earn a treat. My biggest challenge during that year was managing a few co-workers’ expectations that Norm was a “shop dog,” a mascot like a Dalmation at the firehouse. Norm’s behavior was exemplary, the human’s behavior not so much!
Norm with his favorite dragon.
I retired in 2011 after 25 years fixing aircraft electronics. I was thrilled to leave that part of my life behind as the job was not a great fit for me and I endured it for the pay and insurance it afforded me.
At that time, I was living on a 33’ sailboat moored in a marina on San Francisco Bay. I lived on that boat for 15 years, the last five with Norm. Norm adjusted to life on tha boat. He learned how to go up an down the steep companionway stairs, a feat that still amazes me.
Norm’s alerts during this time always impressed me. One time, with the boat heeled over sailing upwind in 25+ knot winds, Norm alerted and he got his treat. How the heck did he ever smell the odor of a hypo in such stiff winds??!
I could go on and on about the help Norm has given me alerting me to hypos but I’ve found that Norm’s magic was more profound than mere hypo alerts. I live alone and Norm’s presence in my daily life gave me unexpected gifts.
You know, we all live with an ongoing personal discussion we conduct with ourselves everyday about how we feel about the events in our life. It’s the subtext that no one else can see unless you choose to share. Norm’s presence in my life brightened that ongoing discussion I have with myself.
Meeting the physical needs of another living creature on a daily basis built in me a strong sense of caring, love. Focussing outward, instead of on my personal trials and tribulations of a person living with type 1 diabetes, softened my perspective.
Interacting and talking with my dog made me feel that I was not alone. This fundamental change in my outlook on life was due to Norm. Maybe I was ready for this change before Norm came along, yet he triggered a cascade of positive emotional milestones that has immeasurably improved psychological and emotional health. The process was completely organic, the magic proceeded without any grand plan or orchestration.
Norm will be 14 next April, old for his breed. He’s still in pretty good shape but his years have taken a toll on his abilities. He can’t hear and see as well as he once did. His physical stamina is much less than former years. We often used to walk 3-5 miles each day – now we’re down to 6-8 blocks. But I still enjoy his company on these walks that are more about smelling various patches of ground than keeping any kind of pace.
Norm’s retirement means that we must give up the privileges of access we’ve enjoyed all these years. Norm will no longer be able to ride with me in the cabin of an airplane as well as on other public transportation. He’s technically not eligible to accompany me into the grocery store but I see plenty of less well-behaved pets that are tolerated at my Safeway.
One of Norm’s preferred spots as I spend time on my computer.
Norm has given me almost 12 years of service devoted to my health and well-being. It is now time for me to return the favor as his “service human.”
I’ve decided that I do want another service dog when Norm has left me, but I don’t want to overlap his time with another dog. As a one-person household, the logistics of looking after two dogs is daunting to me. I will enjoy the time we have left together and make the move to another dog when the time is right.
Edited the title of this post as people thought that Norm had transited the Rainbow Bridge with the original title, Norm retires, life with my diabetes service dog. I share your sensitivity and fear what we all must face. For survivors, grief is the price of love!