My Service Dog, Leni

One of the common questions I get when I'm out with Leni is if I'm training her for someone. Because mast cell disease is an "invisible illness," I don't look the part for needing a service dog. I don't actually mind when people ask because it gives me the chance to spread some awareness for mast cell diseases and educate people on how much service dogs can actually do.

So what does Leni actually do for me?

The main reason we got her and her biggest task is for medical alert. She is able to alert me to oncoming mast cell reactions as well as to low blood sugar. Both these alerts have become so valuable to me as it has helped me manage my symptoms better and avoid more severe reactions. She is scent trained, so we collected samples (I sucked on a cotton swab) during bad mast cell reactions and when my sugars were low. Then we taught her to alert me (pawing) when she smells either of the scents.

She is typically able to give me about a 10-15 minute warning before a mast cell reaction and can catch my sugars in the upper 60s/70s. This has been HUGE in managing my symptoms. Typically, once I start reacting, I'm already behind the reaction. I can take my meds then, but at that point it is just to hopefully stay out of the ER rather than being able to really control the reaction. Because Leni can warn me ahead of time, I can begin treating right then, so my symptoms are much less severe and sometimes I can avoid the reaction altogether. With my sugars, it is also incredibly helpful. I don't feel low sugars until I am in the 40s/50s. At that point, I also begin to develop my neurological symptoms (balance issues, trouble thinking, etc.) which can be dangerous depending on what I'm doing. Plus repeated dealing with severely low sugars is dangerous long-term as the brain is unable to use any energy source other than glucose. Because Leni can catch my sugars before they drop super low, I can usually avoid some of the more problematic symptoms. Also, it is easier to get my sugar up from 70 than trying to raise it from 40, especially when I can only eat so much due to my other issues. So her alerting for both has been so good in managing my symptoms and getting my health a bit more stable.

But, WAIT, there's more!

There is so much more she can (and does) do for me. She can bring my my medications from another room if I've passed out and can't walk or am in too much pain to move. She can identify my epi pen in a pile of stuff if I need it. She can find my phone for me if I've passed out and can't actually go get it myself to call Nick or someone if I need help. She can go get Nick if I need him and can't walk or speak. She can provide some pain relief by lying on me and putting light pressure on my legs or stomach. She can open the refrigerator and bring me a bottle of water to raise my blood pressure or take my medications. She gives me some mobility support on days my balance is off and I need a bit of counter-balancing across a parking lot or in wide open space.

I've only had her 6 months, so we are still figuring each other out at times. She's not perfect, there have been reactions she has missed. I'm not perfect, there are times she alerted and I didn't pay attention. We still have so much we can learn together, but she has truly become such an important part of my health management. It is incredible to see how much her alerting has helped me regain some control over my reactions. While I still get frustrated when I'm not feeling well, I can remind myself of how much worse it used to be before I knew things were coming and could catch reactions ahead of time instead of always playing catch up.


  1. How did you go about getting service dog? I just got a dog, who is helpful in just destressing me, but I would love to have warnings about a mast cell attacks, and it might enable me to be a bit more active. I do PT and walk but I'd love to do more.

  2. When she alerts you that you’re going to have a mast cell reaction: what exactly do you do? Benadryl is a given, but do you also take prednisone at that point, or something else?

    - I’m a fellow mast cell patient considering getting service dog, but want to learn more about how they could help me

    1. Right now, if she has given a mast cell alert, I'll take Benadryl and (if I can figure out what the trigger might be) get away from the trigger. I cannot take oral steroids, so those are not an option. I've had good success using just Benadryl in these situations, so we have not felt the need to add any other meds to use with the alerts. If I end up having full anaphylaxis, then I'm in the ER getting IV steroids, pepcid, more benadryl, and fluids after using epi.