Service dogs aren’t just for blind

Will, a medical service dog, retrieves a juice box for his owner Danielle Londrigan, who has diabetes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jamie Haig)

Will, a medical service dog, retrieves a juice box for his owner Danielle Londrigan, who has diabetes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jamie Haig)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- According to the 1990 census, more than 157 million people in the U.S. suffer from one or more of the 61,000 recognized disabilities. These may be obvious disabilities, like people who are blind or wheelchair bound. Others may be "invisible disabilities," such as epilepsy, deafness or diabetes. More than 15,000 disabled individuals require the use of a service dog. As a result, public encounters with service dogs and their owners are becoming more common.

The definition of a service dog according to the Americans with Disabilities Act is a dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. Those tasks must be directly related to the individual's disability.

I suffer from Type 1 diabetes, which is considered an invisible disability. So I have a response service dog, and we just moved to Hurlburt Field.

Will is a 95-pound golden retriever and Labrador retriever mix, and he is specifically trained to perform several tasks to help me in my daily life. Because of my disability, I was nervous about being left alone with my young children when my husband was away for extended periods. We decided a specially trained dog was the best option for us.

His most important job is to alert me to an oncoming hypoglycemic reaction, or low blood sugar. When my blood sugar begins to drop, Will can smell the change in sugar level and resulting hormone reactions, and signal me to test my blood sugar. Will can brace himself when necessary, and help stabilize me if I become shaky or dizzy. He's also trained to retrieve juice boxes from a cooler to help me treat low blood sugars, which helps prevent injury from tripping or falling.

Because I use a service dog, people often ask if I'm a "severe" diabetic. But I just explain that a service dog is simply another option to help cope with a disability, rather than a definition of the severity of a disability.