It's been a little while since I've posted about Leni, so I thought I would do a quick update. Also, if you didn't see the youtube video that I posted a couple of weeks ago, here is the blog post where I shared the link for that.
But anyway, how has the Bean been doing?
We are getting more and more in tune with each other every day. Her alerts are getting more spontaneous which is great. Not always, so I do still ask her to check me regularly throughout the day if she's not alerting on her own. She has started alerting even in the car which is great when my sugars drop while I'm driving. My doctors love her and some have even seen her in action. Like a week or so ago at the endocrinologist when she alerted to a low sugar just before the nurse checked my sugar with the meter.
Having a service dog means training never stops. It is always ongoing and there are always things to work on. Since she is still not completely spontaneous, we work on getting her alerts with no prompting from me. I'm trying to do more and more work when I'm actually low rather than always using the frozen samples, but that depends a bit on the day. We also work on her spontaneous mast cell alerts regularly, but those always happen from the frozen samples because I cannot tell on my own if I am about to have a reaction.
It's interesting. I really thought the blood sugar alerts would be easier to get out of her, and we would have a lot of work to get her alerting to mast cell reactions. It hasn't been that way, though. For whatever reason, even though we didn't even start the mast cell alerting until she came to me and her blood sugar work had started before that, she has been pretty spot on to my mast cell reactions almost from day one.
She doesn't and can't alert to my day to day not feeling good. We never expected that from her. What she is trained for are my severe reactions, mostly anaphylaxis. When we first started on our service dog journey, we thought/hoped (based on talking to other mast cell patients with service dogs) that there was a scent associated with my anaphylactic reactions. That was what we chose to train for. When she alerts, it is typically about 10-15 minutes before my symptoms begin. This means that I can start treating EARLY which either significantly reduces the severity of my symptoms or sometimes stops my reaction almost entirely. The few times that I still progress to anaphyalxis even after her alert, we are still prepared and ready with my epi pens or other emergency medications. I am so thankful for her =)
A great example of her mast cell alerting came this past weekend. Nick and I went to the Columbus Zoo for my birthday (which is actually in September, but we celebrated this weekend =P). After about 3.5 hours at the zoo, we sat down for a bit while Nick went to get some water for Leni. While we were waiting, Leni got up and pawed me. I checked my sugar which was fine, so I pulled out my emergency meds to start treating a mast cell reaction. I took my meds, we gave Leni water, and continued through the zoo. About 30 minutes later, I could feel myself fading, so we decided to head back to the car. I started to go downhill pretty quickly, so when we finally exited the park, Nick went to get the car. Leni alerted again just before he picked me up, so I took some more of my emergency meds. At that point, I was very shakey, blacking out, developing some muscle weakness, short of breath, getting a rash, and feeling a bit nauseas. Thankfully, the 2nd dose of my meds seemed to kick in quickly. That along with the air conditioning in the car and being able to lean back some gave my body the chance to recover. This had the potential to be a BAD reaction. Without Leni's alert before my initial symptoms, this very easily could have needed an epi pen and we would have spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the local ER. With her alerts, we were able to stay just ahead of my symptoms and manage them. Yes, I still was symptomatic; yes, we still had to leave the zoo early, but Leni did her job and that kept me from needing an epi pen, out of anaphylaxis, and out of the ER. That's a win in our book!
Anyway, along with her alert training, we do all sorts of other training, too. We do some body awareness training which works on her being aware of where her hind end is in relation to her front legs and where she is in relation to me. This allows us to work in tune with each other when we are in stores so we can avoid being in the way of other shoppers. We work on her moving closer to me on command if she moves away for whatever reason. She has a couple commands that allow us to take up as little extra space as possible in the case of crowds, such as lying between my legs instead of to the side or tucking behind me against a wall instead of in front.
We also work on some of her specific tasks that she does for me. She brings me my medications on command if I can't get them myself. She can "find my phone" if I pass out somewhere or can't leave the bathroom and don't have my phone with me. We are working on her still bringing it to me even if someone calls and it starts vibrating...who knew she didn't like a vibrating phone in her mouth =P She can bring me a bottle of water from our fridge upstairs, but we're still working on her closing the door after she gets the water out...this has been a surprisingly long process. She loves to close doors so why closing the refrigerator is so challenging is beyond me. We think she and Bonk are in cahoots and this is a subtle way of giving Bonk access to the food...stay tuned =P
And, of course, we play! I've taught Leni to balance on my bosu ball which she absolutely loves. She can do just two feet or all four, plus she can do sit to stands on the bosu. What a balanced dog! =) Sometimes I'll walk in the room and she'll run over to the bosu just to play. I've taught her to weave through my legs and do figure 8's. We're working on high-5's and catching a ball =P She loves tunnels and jumps and climbing on things, so we'd love to do agility sometime but unfortunately there's no where around here to do it =(
So that's what's up with the Leni Bean! She is such a great addition to our family, and I am so thankful for her. She has given me just a bit more control over my completely uncontrollable mast cell disease, and we are so thankful for that. Even though it doesn't cure my mast cell disease or even really resolve my symptoms, just having some warning and being able to prepare slightly more has really given all of us some more peace of mind and me a bit more confidence to go out and do things, like going to the zoo this past weekend. Plus, having a goofy dog around in between throwing up and passing out just helps bring some smiles to the roughest days.