Photo Courtesy Heather Dillon

Funds sought for diabetic helper dog

Photo Courtesy Heather Dillon
Molly Dillon hugs her puppy, Clover, last fall. Clover is currently being trained to alert Molly when her blood sugar is getting out of balance.

BAR HARBOR — Once Clover is fully trained, she will be able to let Molly Dillon know when her blood sugar is starting to get too high or too low just by smelling her breath.

Nine-year-old Molly has had type 1 diabetes since she was 20 months old. She wears a pump that administers a set amount of insulin every hour. Her parents, Heather and Ed Dillon, check her blood sugar level every three hours and give her extra insulin if she needs it. But still, her blood sugar can rise or fall unexpectedly.

That’s where Clover the dog comes in. She is a 1-year-old goldendoodle – a golden retriever and poodle mix – that is being trained to detect abnormally high or low levels of blood sugar. When the smell of Molly’s breath tells her that the blood sugar is out of balance, she will alert Molly by gently but firmly pawing her.

This will give Molly and her parents more peace of mind, especially at night.

“Diabetics can get dangerously low (on blood glucose) during the night and not even wake up or know it,” Ms. Dillon said.

The question everybody asks is: “How do you teach a dog to respond to abnormal fluctuations in someone’s blood sugar?”

“The scent of your saliva changes depending on where your blood sugar is,” Ms. Dillon explained.

She swabs the inside of Molly’s mouth with cotton balls at various times and sends them to Heartland Diabetic Alert Dogs in Oklahoma, where Clover has been in training for the past five months. The trainer uses the cotton swabs to teach Clover the unique scent of Molly’s saliva and to equate slight differences to different concentrations of blood sugar.

The dog is making such good progress that she could be ready to come to the Dillons by late September. But they still have a lot to do on this end.

Clover’s training costs $18,000, and they still need $15,000.

Tax-deductible donations for Molly’s diabetes dog may be sent to MDI High School c/o Molly’s Dog, P.O. Box 180, Mount Desert, ME 04660.

An earlier version of this story contained an error.  The story said the family had raised $15,000 so far for the training but that is actually the amount they still need to raise.

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]