VALORIE EVERSOLE - Daily Union Reporter
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
Seven-year-old Alissa Shasteen received her special gift a little early for Christmas, but still with welcoming arms, lots of kisses, and a great big smile.
Sugar Plum, a 16-week-old chocolate lab diabetes alert dog, arrived Monday at the Shasteen home along with her trainer, Phil Farris of Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, who will spend several days with the dog and the family for training.
The dog is being specially trained to detect when Alissa’s blood sugar fluctuates too high or too low.
Alissa, daughter of Nick and Jamie Shasteen, was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes (also known as Type I diabetes) at 14 months of age. She is unaware of fluctuations in her blood sugar levels, which can put her in a life-threatening position.
“She has to have her blood checked every two to three hours around the clock,” said her mother Jamie Shasteen. “Alissa doesn’t feel different no matter what her blood sugar level is.”
Sugar Plum has already passed a scent training and is now being trained to work with Alissa and her family. Someone from the organization will return every few months to work with the dog.
“She will be fully trained at about two years,” Jamie said.
Warren Retrievers in Orange, Virginia, specializes in the training of diabetes alert dogs. Dan Warren explained that when a person’s blood sugar rises, the body emits a sweet smell. When a person’s blood sugar level drops, the body emits an acidic smell. The dog’s nose receptors, which number nearly 50 times more than a human’s, detect those subtle changes and the dog alerts the patient through a nudge or a touch of the paw or alerts family members.
“She (Sugar Plum) started alerting right away,” Jamie said. “We still have to test Alissa just as much, or even more, during the training period so that we can praise the dog when she alerts. We can’t let our guard down yet.”
Jamie added that the dog woke her up during the night Monday night because Alissa was in such a deep sleep and there was a change in her sugar level. Jamie was also sleeping in Alissa’s room.
“It was shocking and amazing at the same time. She woke me up at 12:30. That was the ‘wow’ factor for me,” Jamie said.
The dog is a service animal just like the ones for the blind, those with seizure disorders, anxiety disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury, autism and other health issues. It is not a pet and is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“They (Alissa and Sugar Plum) have already formed an unbreakable bond,” Jamie said. “Sugar is in a kennel in Alissa’s room and soon she will be sleeping next to Alissa.”
Even though the dog is for Alissa, her six-year-old brother Caden is getting to enjoy Sugar Plum, too.
What does Alissa think of her new dog? Her big smile revealed her answer.
The dog costs about $19,000 and the Shasteens have received the benefits of fundraisers and contributions toward the expense. According to Jamie, they still need about $2,000 for the dog and will be continuing to fundraise for the balance.
“We’d like to thank the Shelbyville community and the surrounding communities for their fundraising and donations. They have been very generous,” Jamie said.
Donations may be made at First Federal Savings & Loan, Shelbyville (Alissa Shasteen’s Alert Dog); online at www.guardianangelservicedogs.org. (designate Alissa Shasteen’s D.A.D.); or mail donations directly to Warren Retrievers at Guardian Angel Service Dogs, Inc. P.O. Box 910, Orange VA 22960. Write Alissa Shasteen’s D.A.D. on the memo line.
Derek Bly of Shelbyville returned from his oversees deployment recently with a diagnosis of diabetes and is looking to raise funds for a diabetes service dog.
“I hope the Blys have as much outpouring as we have,” Jamie said.
To donate for the Blys’ service dog, mail donations directly to Warren Retrievers at Guardian Angel Service Dogs, Inc. P.O. Box 910, Orange VA 22960, noting Derek Bly in the memo line, or visiting www.guardianangelservicedogs.org.