Crystal Clear


Fiona’s Bear portrait. @fionasararose

I realized Bear’s challenge last week while standing on the front porch. Bear stared across the street as the mail-truck eased to the curb. Not only do we need Bear to not act like a dog, ignoring attentions from admirers, which is everyone in his eyes, and ignoring food and scent treats, but we also need him to rely on scent to signal when someone has low-blood sugar. It was while I stood on the porch with Bear that I realized Bear relies more on sight then he does on scent.

He stood on the porch, staring at the mailman for a moment before he snapped a quick bark to him. It was not a threatening bark, but rather a “Hello there person that always has treats in his pocket for me, don’t you go anywhere, I’m coming over for my treat because I know you love giving me treats” bark. He skipped four steps to the sidewalk, belting out another bark while on final approach. On tiptoes, anticipating the attention and treat, Bear wagged his body, looking more like a worm than a dog.

At some point the US Postal Service changed from pepper spray to treats to protect themselves from the canines. Without inside information I don’t know when this strategic shift from stick to carrot occurred, but I do know it was at least four years ago. As far as Bear knows, postmen deliver treats to dogs. And so it is that when walking Bear off leash (another story about off leash walking to come), he will suddenly break into a sprint at the site of a mail truck, postmen, or mail bag.

bear on porchBear aggressively noses the walking postman, nudging his chops into the post bag and the pockets, searching for the treats, while the postman attempts to find his treats. I trail Bear, apologizing and explaining that he associates mail with treats. And then I wonder if that comment somehow belittles the postman. They deliver mail and hand out treats. So sometimes I dispense with the explanation and simply apologize.

And so I realize the main challenge for Bear in signaling low blood sugars is more the fact that he relies on sight more than he does on scent. If only we could train Bear on the draining of pigment that occurs with a low-blood sugar, which is a very subtle change for those of Irish descent, which I’m sure Bear could distinguish with his ability to spot postmen; then he could switch from his now lagging low-blood sugar indicator, pawing and barking when he sees Maggie or Dec drinking a juice-box, into a leading low-blood sugar indicator, pawing before they find out they are actually low.