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How Cody my Diabetic Alert Dog taught me to speak

Type 1 diabetes factors heavily into my everyday thought process, but it’s rarely something I discuss with other people. Or at least it wasn’t, until Cody.


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Devin and Cody
(Photo: Robert Houser)


Diabetes is a predominantly invisible disease. Over the years, I’ve occasionally drawn questioning stares while nonchalantly stabbing a needle through my shirt or, later, while whipping out my insulin pump to silence a CGM alarm. Most of the time, though, I tend to the constant worry and regulation alone. Type 1 diabetes (T1D) factors heavily into my everyday thought process, but it’s rarely something I discuss with other people.

Or at least it wasn’t, until Cody.

Cody was my Medical Service Hypoglycemic Alert Dog – better known as a Diabetic Alert Dog, or “D.A.D.” We were partnered in 2006 and he improved every day of my life for twelve years. Trained to use his remarkable canine sense of smell to detect and alert on shifts in my blood glucose, he consistently caught potentially life-threatening hypoglycemic events and rises in blood glucose ahead of both symptomatic onset and my CGM alarms.

Though I sometimes resented being asked by my medical team or family members to check my blood glucose numbers, it always felt thrilling when Cody urged me to do it.

There was something else he changed, though, something I didn’t notice right away. In addition to being brilliantly trained, Cody was a gorgeous purebred Golden Retriever with a silky coat and a dimpled smile. Annually certified for safe public accessing by the Concord, California (USA) nonprofit, Early Alert Canines (EAC), he accompanied me everywhere in his maroon service vest, exhibiting the perfect manners required of a service dog whether we were visiting the neighbourhood convenience store, sitting through a live performance, or dropping the kids off at school.

He never made a peep when we were inside public venues not normally accessible to dogs, obediently folding all eighty-two pounds of himself up under a table, desk or chair, but when we were on the move people stopped me to ask about him constantly. They wanted to pet him, or to tell me about a Golden they’d once had, or to ask what it was that he did. I’d been trained for these encounters; part of having a service dog is being an ambassador for them. I knew it benefitted EAC when I answered inquiries warmly and honestly and I figured that it benefited Cody, too; he loved the attention and the varied, brief exchanges kept his socialization skills sharp. What I didn’t realize until later was how greatly those exchanges were benefitting me, as well.

We had to say goodbye to Cody this past summer – Goldens have a life expectancy of thirteen and old age caught up with him right on cue — but by then, he’d given me more gifts than I could count. One of them was altering the way I discussed diabetes with other people, or really the fact that I did so at all. Those random encounters with strangers profoundly changed my relationship to the disease. I couldn’t explain what Cody did without clarifying how he helped me, so suddenly I was talking about T1D several times a day. These were usually upbeat conversations about how miraculous dogs were and they inevitably ended with smiles and comments about how fortunate I was to have him. One little girl, breathlessly in love with him after knowing him for all of three minutes, even plaintively asked her mom if she could have diabetes, too. I wouldn’t wish T1D on my worst enemy, but I understood her sentiment. I was lucky to have Cody.

Luckier, even, than I realized at the time.

There’s no question that having Cody with me everywhere I went made me feel immeasurably less alone with my chronic illness.

 

Devin Grayson is a fiction writer best known for her work in mainstream comics. She’s been living with type 1 diabetes since the age of fourteen and can be found online at www.DevinGrayson.net


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