By LINDA M. LINONIS
Ben Moore, 10, and Jerry, a 11/2-year-old mixed-breed dog, go together like Chocolate Cherry Garcia – a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor.
Ben is a Type 1 diabetic who has an insulin pump. Jerry, a husky-shepherd mix, faced an uncertain future as a stray picked up by the Mahoning County Dog Pound. At the pound, he was called Midas, probably because of his golden brown fur.
As it turns out, Midas-turned-Jerry (so named for the fun of the pairing) is a gold mine of developing talent when it comes to detecting and alerting to low blood sugar in Ben. Jerry already has shown his potential as a service dog: He has correctly alerted five times to low blood sugar in Ben.
Kristen and Clint Moore of North Jackson, their son, Ben, and daughter, Maddie, 12, adopted Jerry. Ben and his mother participate in Together Journey Service Dog training at The Canine Campus Training and Wellness Center, 757 N. Main St., in a class led by Katie Costello.
She is the center’s owner and certified professional dog trainer who has worked with canines for 30 years. She founded K-9’s for Compassion, a therapy animal group, and a nonprofit, The Together Journey, dedicated to raising money to defer cost of service dogs.
Kristen said the family looked into acquiring a service dog, but the cost of $25,000 was daunting. “That was for a fully trained service dog,” Kristen said.
A friend of the Moores’ told them about the Hubbard facility. “It was perfect timing because I was starting the program,” Costello said.
Training can be tailored to various disabilities and medical conditions including seizures and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Costello was instrumental in pairing Ben and Jerry. She said she looks at dogs at the pound, assessing various qualities including how they take to being handled, overall demeanor and willingness to engage with people. “This saves dogs,” said Costello.
While Ben and his sister liked black Labradors, Costello tried three such mixes with Ben. None really engaged Ben. When Midas (now Jerry) came into the room, he went straight to Ben and put his head in the boy’s lap. The dog didn’t want a treat or to play ball; he wanted only to be close to Ben. “People think they pick the dog, but it’s really the dog that picks you,” Costello said.
“This is my dog. I knew it,” Ben said.
The Moores adopted Midas-turned-Jerry on Sept. 22; Ben and Jerry started the service-dog training class Oct. 21. “He’s our medical mutt,” Kristen said of the new family pet who joins a cat and rabbit.
With guidance from Costello, the family is training Jerry to alert to low blood sugar in Ben when he recognizes a certain smell, Kristen said. “There are chemical changes in the body when blood sugar is low,” Kristen said. When Ben’s blood sugar has been low, his mom has had him put a cotton ball in his mouth so it absorbs his saliva. The cotton ball goes into a tin with a perforated top. Jerry is taught to alert when he picks up that certain smell; his signal is pawing insistently.
Costello said Jerry is learning but still in training. When The Vindicator was with the Moores for an interview and photos, Jerry correctly alerted to Ben’s low blood sugar. “Jerry is like medical equipment in that sense,” Costello said. “He went from being a stray to serving a much bigger purpose in helping Ben.”
Along with service training, Jerry also is learning basic obedience.
Kristen said Ben’s Type 1 diabetes was diagnosed when he was in first grade; he’s now a fifth-grader at Jackson-Milton Elementary School and plays soccer.
“It’s a 24/7 condition, being insulin-dependent,” she said. “It’s making adjustments with food and exercise. Ben tests his blood eight to 10 times a day,” Kristen said. A continuous glucose monitor provides a readout of Ben’s blood sugar level every five minutes, she explained. Ben wears a pump that injects insulin into his body every three minutes because Ben’s body doesn’t produce insulin. The insulin is delivered through a catheter placed under the skin.
Kristen said 80 to 100 “is the good range.” Seventy or lower can be dangerous, she said. A very low number may lead to seizures or diabetic coma. Eating a piece of hard candy or a few raisins puts sugar back into the body.
“There is a lot of responsibility and stress involved,” Kristen said. “We feel like Ben’s life is in our hands.”