Service Animals for Diabetics: What Do You Think About This Story?

New York School Bans Diabetic Boy's Service Dog
Wednesday, September 09, 2009


A service dog belonging to Anthony Spataro, 8, who has been barred from his New York public school with this dog and a new one he has since gotten to help him monitor his diabetes.
YONKERS, N.Y. — Officials at a New York school have refused to allow a diabetic student to bring his service dog to school.

A school district official stopped 8-year-old Anthony Spataro, his mother, and his dog, Dash, from entering a Yonkers school on Tuesday.

Samantha Spataro said her son was told that he was welcome at Paideia School 15 without his dog.

The Westchester school's spokeswoman said the dog is too young to have been properly trained as a service dog to detect glucose levels.

The district also barred Anthony from coming to class when he had a different service dog, a 2-year-old German shepherd, to monitor fluctuations in his blood sugar levels.

School officials told FOX 5 New York in August that Anthony had an aide assigned to him and had been doing well in school without a dog.

The state's Division of Human Rights issued a determination earlier this year that the family has grounds to sue the district over the issue.

The family says they will go to court.

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Tags: Diabetes, animals, children, service, teens

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I didn't realize a child had been barred from the school. That seems a bit extreme. In my experience, a dog detecting low bloodsugar levels is not a normal thing. I've had two dogs in my adult life. The first one, Jackson, was able to know when I was low. He would lick my feet to wake me if I was sleeping, and if I were already awake, he would sit at my side until I was in the normal range. It was almost a sixth sense sort of thing. The dog I have now, Barkley, doesn't seem to have the same abilities. She's never acted any differently when I'm low. It seems hard for me to understand how the training works. Every diabetic I know reacts differently to a low bloodsugar and even reacts differently at different levels of a low, like 70 versus 40. I'd like to read more about the training of these service dogs. I think it's a great idea, it just seems improbable.
It's not improbable. You can't compare your untrained pet dogs to trained service dogs, any more than you can compare your untrained dog's ability to assist someone who's blind or deaf to a dog that is trained to assist a blind or deaf person. I have a friend who has a diabetic service dog, and by her account, it nails every low.

You can get more information about diabetic service dogs at Dogs4Diabetics, a non-profit organization that trains them.

As for the story, I agree with what Tom said below, it's an awful, last-resort solution, but it sounds like it will require legal action.
An article by Mara Bovsun in the American Kennel Club magazine "Family Dog" tells all about it. One of the keys to having a dog to assist with lows is to understand the physiology of their scenting skills and to recall that when we sweat, various chemicals come out. Dogs can be trained to figure this out. I'm working to train one of mine who seems to have some aptitude for it. I use three t-shirts soaked in sweat and hidden from his view in a perforated can. All three are sweaty (and I'll admit" getting groady) but one is from a low while the other two are from normal workouts. I parade him by the cans and when he reacts to the proper one, he gets a treat. Over time he will learn to associate my sweat from a low with a treat. I'll get alerted to a low, and he'll get a treat. We will all win.
Sad to say, but there is nothing new here. The same thing happened to a boy with diabetes in Long Island, as well as another in New Jersey. As awful as it sounds, the solution to this problem involves lawyers.
While I don't honestly understand the use of service dogs for diabetics (meaning I don't think it would be helpful for me.. not that I don't think someone else might actually need one), I fully believe they should be protected under the ADA laws.. just as a service dog would be for anyone else.
I'm a teacher and a diabetic. I can see why the school would rather the student use a glucose meter. Having a dog in school is a liability. Also, the child would have to be in control of the dog at all times. It would be more beneficial to him if he didn't have the distraction of the dog in school. These dogs are wonderful! I think they are still useful for at home, particularly when the child is sleeping. At school, however, I think it would be best for the child to just use his glucose meter.
I call nonsense - same goes for a deaf or blind student. S/he would need to be in control of the dog at all times, and they could be a liability, just like a baseball bat in the hands of a student, or any of a thousand other things - a trained hypo sensing service dog is hardly a liability compared to a huge number of other things in your school environment, this argument is a total red herring. These dogs are highly trained to remain in control, just as with any other service dog.

Some people have severe lows that testing yourself regularly will not always catch, for example, when they come on quickly, and even a CGMS may not catch. I have experienced both myself.

Rather, it sounds to me like you are speaking as a teacher thinking about doing absolutely anything to avoid kids being distracted rather than thinking about problems that someone who is actually contemplating one of these dogs actually faces. Ever have a low sneak up on you and suddenly find yourself less than functional? Ever have a seizure? I strongly suspect not based on your response, but there are some diabetics who DO have these problems even if you don't have them and don't give a hoot about kids who do.

With all due respect for your role as a teacher, it seems to me your opinion about what is "best for the child" is really about what you think is best for YOU and has zero to do with what is best for a kid with severe hypo issues and risking seizures or worse. These dogs cost thousands of dollars, require very extensive training not just for the dog but for the owner, and are not something taken on lightly by anyone involved.
I can see both viewpoints. I too am a Type 1 teacher. I see the point that the child should have the dog if needed, and that the dog should be with him all the time. I also, as a teacher, see how this could cause a distraction, not just for the child, but for the other children. However, I think this 'distraction' bit could be worked through easily. Kids are adaptable to situations rather quickly - I think the novelty of having the dog at school would wear off within a week or two. And it would give the other children a stronger understanding of service dogs, how to/not to interact with them, and a general appreciation for the differences we as humans hold (even our organs don't all work the same!)
In order for these dogs to accurately detect hypoglycemia, they should be with the child most or all of the time. They are service dogs. If the child was blind the school system could not deny the dog. The child in question has had severe seizures, very volatile blood sugars which parents can not control. I have read of this story before. I believe the parents have pursued legal action; unfortunately, it takes a long time for cases to go through the court system. I'd be willing to bet the child in question will be in college before this is resolved. Unless the school system decides to settle. I think it's disgraceful. And perhaps the dog works more reliably than cgms. I know the parents will win their case; just hope it's soon enough to help their son.
I have a CGMS and I check frequently and I am still sometimes surprised by unexpected lows. Also, there are times when your glucose drops very quickly. You think it's not disruptive to have a kid pulling out a testing meter and doing it in class, or worse, having to go to the nurse's office to do the test? The dogs know what's going on with us before we manifest symptoms. They are service dogs just like dogs for the blind.

It's a pity this will have to be litigated, but sometimes the only way to make them straighten up nd fly right is to cost them money.
Kim- im hypo unaware, and i bring my alert dog to school. i see where your coming from, but also it is dangerous for me to not have Shyla at school. ive collapsed plenty of times due to low blood sugar and there were never any teachers or other students around. i had to take care of myself. and when i tried checking more often, the insurance company threw a fit because i was costing them too much money.
When my 4th grade daughter started a new school this year, there was a diabetes dog on campus. The kids got a grade-by-grade assembly in which they were introduced to the dog and his family and given some explanation and training about how to behave -- mainly to not pet or talk to the dog because he is working, try to actually pretend he is not there. They were told the dog's job is to "remind [the boy] to check his blood sugar regularly so that he knows when to take his medicine."




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