This is the story of a boy and his dog ... and diabetes.
Twelve-year-old Jacob Haug of Bellingham has coped with Type 1 diabetes for eight years. Now he has a chance to live a more independent life, thanks to a diabetic alert service dog.
Jacob, his parents, Ken and Mel-Beth, and their older son, 15-year-old Josh, quickly fell in love with Shasta when she arrived at their home last September as a 4-month-old pup.
The family is trying to raise more than $13,000 in the next two years to complete a $20,000 payment for Shasta, an American black Lab trained and raised by Warren Retrievers of Virginia.
Question: Is the phrase "diabetic alert dog" unknown to most people?
Mel-Beth: Yes, it originated in the 1990s after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service dogs began to be used for many more purposes than as guide dogs for the blind.
One of my new goals is to let people know about diabetic alert dogs. We know of only one more family in Whatcom County with a diabetic alert dog.
Q: Jacob, how does Shasta help you?
Jacob: No matter where I am Shasta will paw me if my blood sugar suddenly gets too high and she'll nudge me with her nose if my count is too low. She's trained to use her sense of smell to do this. She's still learning.
Mel-Beth: Diabetics often don't feel low blood sugar and their bodies can be slow to react to how insulin pumps have been programmed.
Q: How would you compare Shasta's abilities to humans?
Mel-Beth: Dogs can smell a tablespoon of sugar in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Humans (sometimes) can smell such a tablespoon in a glass of iced tea.
Q: Is there anywhere you don't go with Shasta?
Jacob: She's with me everywhere, except on the mountain (he is learning to ski and snowboard) and when I'm mountain biking.
Q: Aside from safety issues, why did you need a diabetic alert dog?
Jacob: I really want to become more independent and play more sports. Shasta gives me more freedom (since he cannot survive without insulin). I still have to poke my finger for tests six to 10 times a day and I take six to eight shots of insulin each day.
Q: How did you come up with the name Shasta?
Jacob: We had a contest for family and friends on Facebook. More than 50 people suggested names. I liked the name Shasta the best. She's cute and small for a Lab and she loves to cuddle. She'll be a working service dog for 10 years, so I'll grow up with her, but I will keep her forever.
Mel-Beth: Shasta is fabulous. It's so nice to know someone else can also be looking out for Jacob.
Q: Were you surprised to see your sons develop Type 1 diabetes?
Mel-Beth: Ken and I really were surprised, since neither of us had the genetic markers for diabetes. We had no idea until Jacob began to develop the symptoms when he was 4. Josh was diagnosed two years later, when he was about 9 years old. It's an autoimmune disease, and Type 1 tends to strike mostly younger people.
DONATE FOR SHASTA
Mel-Beth Haug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.