Typical Day

IMG_20141007_070424149 (2)The day begins with me going downstairs to get Bear out of bed and out for a walk. If Bear did not signal in the middle of the night, then this is my first trip down. If he signaled at some point in the middle of the night, then it could be up to my sixth trip down: one to go down and realize the kit is upstairs, two to bring the kit down and realize there are no strips in the kit, three to bring the strips down and test, fourth to bring down a juice box for Maggie or Dec, fifth to bring down a scrap of hot dog for Bear, and the sixth to come down to take Bear for a walk.

On school mornings Bear is still in bed snoring away. The only change for a weekend is that I am snoring upstairs, and Bear is barking downstairs. Up and out of bed, stretch and scratch, and we are on our way to the park to throw the ball. Along the way there will be anywhere from one to four poops, depending on how much bread was left in the bag that Bear ate yesterday.

Back at home Bear gets fed and finds a cozy spot on the couch to wait for Declan to wake up. The couch spot is abandoned briefly after Heather and I are done getting ready, before the kids are up, to check to see if there is any cat-food left out. Then back to the couch. The kids saunter upstairs and each has to be greeted. And Bear may signal solely on the presence of the kit coming out to check blood sugar. The success rate on these signals, as you can imagine, is quite low. But there are times when Bear signals and either Maggie or Declan are still downstairs and they are low.

Heather leaves. I leave. And then the kids walk around the house and make sure there are no less than 15 lights turned on. Maggie and Fiona leave either together or separate. And then it is just Declan and Bear for a solid hour. I cannot confirm this, but from the pattern established this week, I believe Declan leaves the ice cream out on the counter after eating a few bites and then makes sure there is a loaf of bread in the pantry within chomping reach of Bear’s snout.

1408051310200After Declan leaves then it is serious couch time. But first Bear must tour the house for any treasures within reach. This is when he finds the carton of half eaten and half melted ice cream, and the half to three-quarters of a loaf of Dave’s Killer Bread. Not sure if he takes them one at a time, but the treats are consumed int he TV room, where I find a ripped apart ice-cream carton, and torn plastic bag that used to hold the bread.

And then it is off to the couch to help digest. We have had friends say they come by the house to drop something off, or see if anyone is home, and Bear is splayed out on the couch. They knock on the door and Bear doesn’t move. They knock again, checking to see if he is still alive. Bear slowly turns to see who is at the door before turning back to his nap. And after the ice cream and bread any of us could use a solid four hour nap.

IMG_20140808_170543880A couple of days a week the nap is interrupted by Grandma Estelle coming over to take Bear for a walk. I believe this is the best part of the day second only to Declan coming home. After the walk Grandma makes some coffee and maybe makes a sandwich. She reinforces some good habits for Bear, tossing extra meat or cheese his way and Mimi’s way while she makes her meal.

Back home and back to the couch to wait for Fiona to come home and turn on a few more lights. Eventually everyone gets back home. When I get home I do a quick tour of the house to not only take inventory of what Bear ate from the kitchen, but also to turn off all the lights. I grew up during the energy crisis in the 70s and am conditioned to turn things off if they are not being used.

IMG_20141012_125740960 (1)As each person comes home Bear finds a sock, or a shoe, or a towel, or anything from the floor to carry over to the person and greet them. There might be an occasional low-blood sugar to signal for, but Bear must always first greet the new people with something in his mouth.

IMG_20141014_195651067Then dinner and homework, maybe someone takes Bear outside for a quick walk or to throw the ball a bit. And then back downstairs to go to bed with Dec.


Getting in the way

The sun has returned.

The sun has returned.

It does get in the way a bit, sometimes more than others. On average it’s less obtrusive than the neighbor who continues remodeling his house after ten years. But diabetes does get in the way. Normally it is just little things: every morning checking blood sugar and giving shots; scarfing down sugar during soccer games.

This morning we all slept in because of dentists appointments. Luxuriating in the extra time, Declan went to Lego warfare which was spread on the table. I threw him the kit to check blood sugar, which is when Bear started signaling. It seems Bear is now conditioned to check for low blood sugar the same time the kids are checking. Need to somehow get him to check when they are not checking. That is the whole point of it all.

Dec is 114. Bear continues to signal, barking a high-pitched sound. So it could be that Bear expects a nice juicy hot dog chunk whenever the blood sugar kit comes out, or it could be that Maggie is low downstairs, or it could be that Declan is dropping. In fact just the other night Bear signaled Dec, so he tested. he was in the 90s. We went downstairs and Bear continued signaling. Dec tested again and he was 64. It gets messy with the meter’s accuracy. They claim to be within 10% of actual blood sugar, which studies back up, but when you are around the boundary of being low, possibly dropping or rising, 10% makes a difference, which only leads to how confusing it must get for Bear trying to conform his signals to receive the juicy hot dog treat.

Not wanting to be left for the soccer game.

Not wanting to be left for the soccer game.

So it could be the meter, it could be he is dropping, or it could be that Maggie is low. Maggie and a different meter are downstairs, down I go. Minimizing up and down trips, I check Maggie first, and she is indeed low at 70. Being a teenager, she proclaims that she is fine. On my return upstairs I praise Bear and give him a nice juicy hot dog treat.

You might think having multiple people with diabetes in the home would make training Bear easier. More and more I think it really is getting in the way.

Tough love softened

We get to the dentist’s office and fill the waiting room, the three kids and myself. Each year the waiting area seems to shrink as our physical space increases, mine less so I hope, and the amount of energy expelled (mostly sound) increases as well. By the time we’ve cycled through appointments, Declan succeeded in disabling Fiona’s phone for an hour, which achieves his ultimate goal of pushing Fiona into a slightly controlled rage.

Normally we stop and get breakfast or lunch on our way back from the dentist, and I’m trying to figure out if Bunk, a local sandwich shop, is open. Meanwhile mental jabs and full-on screams ensue between shotgun and back seat occupants, which is when the flip switched for me, and I announce we will not be getting any lunch, but simply being dropped off at school. I am fed up with the mental, and occasional physical, sparring.

Staying away from shoes, but went on a bender, destroying a computer mouse and gorilla grip camera clamp.

Staying away from shoes, but went on a bender, destroying a computer mouse and gorilla grip camera clamp.

For three blocks I enjoy the quiet in the car, Fiona and Declan still fuming while Maggie strategizes a new angle. And then Declan says he feels low, checks, and is indeed quite low at 56. He is without sugar tabs or juice (which he drank while disabling Fiona’s phone). His time delayed insulin, NPH, is kicking in. So instead of being able to punctuate my canceling of lunch by dropping them off at school to fend for themselves, we now have to stop somewhere quick to get soda or juice for Declan.

Any other day I’d appreciate having New Season’s Market three blocks away, but in this case I’d rather have a Plaid Pantry to run into and get a soda, leaving the kids in the car waiting to be dropped at school. Instead we pull into the parking lot, unloading and going into New Seasons. Before getting to New Seasons, Maggie was brainstorming different solutions that all involved her getting a sandwich. “There’s a nice cafe next to the Plaid Pantry, or that place looks good…”

I don’t respond to any of her suggestions, including the one to get a sandwich at New Seasons. She takes the non-response as an affirmative response when we park, and everyone gets a sandwich while Declan horks down a Mountain Dew.

It is a relief to get Declan back into range, but I was looking forward to dropping them off at school, denying them a nice lunch, but diabetes got in the way.

Winter Break

Snapchat to Maggie: He signaled, check your blood sugar. We were at the park and she was at Grandma's house.

Snapchat to Maggie: He signaled, check your blood sugar. We were at the park and she was at Grandma’s house.

Somehow a link between the smell that emanates from the plastic tube with a cotton swab stuffed inside must be linked to the smell emanating from the child with a low blood sugar. The reaction of one child with a low blood-sugar is nearly dichotomous to the reaction of the other. The elder of the two yells at Bear, annoyed at his signal, telling him to get away. The younger grabs his ears and gives him some loving and then runs to get some treats. I’d be confused.

I told Maggie that she was single-handedly sabotaging Bear’s training. A bit of an overstatement, I admit. All he needs is a clear message to act upon, and a simple reward for performing the appropriate signal. I try to clear the message by checking their blood-sugars prior to scent training. There have been times when we scent-train while Maggie sleeps downstairs with low blood-sugar. This may be part of the cause for the inconsistent live alerts in the morning. Maggie climbs upstairs and gets a juice, announcing she is low. I can see a look of triumph in her eyes, telling me that the dog is un-trainable. And I may be projecting a bit here. But from Bear’s perspective, why would we care now about alerting a low-scent when we didn’t care in the past. We only cared about alerting after finding the scent in the little plastic tube.

In addition to checking their blood sugar prior to testing, I am also attempting to check BOTH their blood sugars after he alerts. This is a challenge because there are times when I don’t even know that Maggie is home (this happens more than I’d like to admit). Bear will alert and Dec will check his blood sugar. He’ll be in range. Thirty minutes pass and Maggie rises from her room announcing she is low. (We need to do something about the amount of time she spends on her computer; she’ll be holed up in her room for hours and we’ll think she is at a friend’s house) This does not happen often, but when it does I commence kicking myself. Why didn’t I check her room?

Chillin' on the couch.

Chillin’ on the couch.

The positive spin on Maggie rising from her dungeon announcing she is low after Bear has signaled is that Bear accurately signaled. A more common occurrence is Bear signaling and both Maggie and Declan either being in range or high. I’m beginning to think (hope) Bear might be signaling high blood sugar, though we have not introduced that at all. This is merely self-preservation in the jungle of trying to train Bear. It is deflating to get a clear signal to only discover it to be a false positive. Bear is learning that if he wants a treat he merely has to signal. That is clearly not the connection we are hoping to make between the low-scent and the yummy Costco hot dog treat.

Bear continues to LOVE Grandma and the walks she takes him on.

Bear continues to LOVE Grandma and the walks she takes him on.

Bestest day ever ever

IMG_20130802_074300It’s great sleeping down here in Dec’s room. He is the smallest of the people, and my favorite. I sleep on his bed or on the floor or on some giant pillow. I love being in here. Wait! I hear something. It’s my favorite person. “YERP!” Get me out of here!

This small Declan person is so responsive. Now for my favorite part of the day. I get to say hello to my favorite person. Wait! I need something in my mouth. My stuffed animal, the long one with a rope on one end would be great. Where is it? Wait, here is a bunched up sock that smells of Declan. Perfect! My favorite. Hello, hello, hello. “Rrrrrwrrrrr. Rwrrrrrr.”

Oh this is great. Hello. Hello. You want the sock? That’s why I brought it. Here you go. Now why do you throw it downstairs. That’s where I got it. Stuffed animal! My favorite. Hello, hello, hello.

Morning walk at the river.

Morning walk at the river.

Wait! Here comes the big person. My favorite. He has the big coat on. This means we go for a walk. My favorite part of the day. I have to wait first, though. I leave the warm place after he puts my favorite blue leash on, and after he says “Okay.” There it is. Let’s go.

WHOA! I have to pee. Quick to the grass. Ah, what a relief. Now we walk. What? We’re stopping? Big tug on the leash. Tight on my neck. Growl from the big one means something. I’m still trying to figure this out. Okay, we’re walking now. Cold crisp air is great! Collar is a bit tight. Whoa! I guess we are going backwards now. Still trying to figure this one out, but sure I’ll back it up. Let me know when we’re ready to go.

Now I need some more grass, need to take care of number two. Looks perfect right there. Collar tight, back it up, okay. I didn’t like that spot either, how about this one? Okay? Phew, because I was about to explode. Hey there is a good smell over here. I can’t quite reach, just a little further, collar is tight. Whoa! Here I am suddenly looking over the big person whose crouching over that poop. Waiting. Waiting. Okay we can go again.

My favorite stick at the river. Found it three times in a row.

My favorite stick at the river. Found it three times in a row.

What’s that smell? The little one? Is he out here? There is the warm place. My favorite part of the day. Back inside and smothering Declan, the little one, on my couch, the one by the window. He is pretending to be asleep. He is under a blanket. I love this game. I have to try to lick his face. And if I lick it, then I need to try to lick it again.

Whup! I hear the can opening. I smell the food. Gotta get off this couch. I just realized how hungry I am. “Sit.” I know this one. Got it. “Okay.” I know this one, too. Sniff it out. Smells like the same stuff that was in the dish yesterday. Looks like it, too. It is. Few bites. Serviceable, but not nearly as tasty as that dish I can reach on the counter. But I sure am hungry.

IMG_20131007_131522My favorite part of the day coming right up. Finish the meal and off to my couch, laying belly up. Ah. I just realized how tired I am. Running. Running. Barking. Barking. River. What’s that smell? Reminds me of those yummy treats that are round. Smell still there. Back at the river. Running. Running. There’s that smell again. And is there something touching my nose? Blink. Oh yeah. I remember. The plastic tube with white inside. That’s the smell. Jump up on the big guy. Or bark. Or pull his knee with my paw. Yep. There it is. And now the yummy treat. And now I wait. I wait. I wait. “Okay.” Where is that scent? Not here. In the other room. I can sense it. Not sure where. But it is here somewhere. On the couch maybe? Nope. Sheesh. I am hungry. And I know the yummy treat is coming at some point soon. Is it on the chair? On the shelf? Ahhhh! I can smell it. Where is it. “Rerp! Rerp!” I can smell it! I want my treat. Oh, right there! Got it. I found it! I found it. Yummy treat! My favorite part of the day.

The big people are gone. Just the smaller ones now. Normally the smaller ones are gone by now. And I’m in that place by the door. And I have a dish of water and my favorite chew toy. But the smaller people are not leaving. They are still here. I can stay on my couch. I am so tired.

IMG_20131017_185344Kids here but not here. Two downstairs and one in the room. Time for my favorite game of find what’s on the counter. No way! A bag full of round bread with seeds on top. Quiet now. Quiet. I’ll take it to room with the one kid, the small one. The one named Declan. I like being around him. He is talking to that flat screen hanging on the wall. I like this brown long furry thing on the floor. Soft. Keep quiet, though. Pesky bag. I can see them, but they are trapped. Free the bread. Freed. Soft and squishy, and so easy to throw down in two bites. Six bites of this round bread.

What else. Pantry door open. My favorite place. What? Where is the chocolate milk? And there is normally a loaf of bread on this shelf. I can smell it. But it’s not here. And the pasta! I smell it, but it is also gone from its normal resting place. That stuff is fun to eat. Crunchy and small. They disappear in the brown furry thing in that other room.

Thirsty. To the white bowl that the people sit on sometimes. Refreshing.

Waiting for Ashley to finish eating my food.

Waiting for Ashley to finish eating my food.

Whup! Glass jar with something in it that smells a lot like bacon. Yep, there it is. A bit tricky to carry. Got it. What is this metal thing on top? New challenge. Whoa, it just popped off. Cool. Now for the jar full of bacon grease. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Thirsty. Back to the white chair. Where did the water go? “Yerp! Yerp!” Here comes Declan. He is so responsive. And suddenly it is refilled. Lovely.

Couch. Tired. Sleep. Hungry. Ah, more treats on the counter. Best day ever. The little people stay home and leave treats on the counter for me.

Sure enough


Bear waits quietly to eat while Jelly finishes drinking from his water bowl.

The single bark came in the middle of the night. I only know if was before three in the morning. I jumped from bed after the high-pitched single bark. Through bleary eyes I saw Bear standing at the office door, looking back at me. Deciphering the scene in the dark I saw child gate blocking the doorway and thought Bear just needed to go outside. I ignored Bear and he quickly settled back down, wanting to avoid the crate that he gets placed in for being a belligerent puppy.

Bear leaps into the river.

Bear leaps into the river.

Back in bed I briefly debated the single high-pitched bark. Bear must have just needed to go outside since the gate was up. Turns out the gate wasn’t up. Not sure how much time passed, but I woke again, this time from Maggie in the kitchen, drinking juice and getting a snack ready for after her low. Not really after her low, as she just starts eating after she downs the juice. It being three in the morning, I withhold my lecture about waiting to eat the snack until re-testing blood sugar. Instead I quietly admonish myself for not heeding Bear’s signal.


Asking if it is alright to eat, or if he should continue waiting.

Maggie stabilized and Bear spent the rest of the night on his couch. I finished the night in fits of sleeping thinking about the damage I can do to Bear’s training, and how much more quickly he could be trained if it weren’t for me.


On a brighter subject, the clear crisp weather has kept the river a great place to take Bear. And mid-day scent training continues.

Walking the mean paths of Riverfront park.

Walking the mean paths of Riverfront park.

Eating well


Bear and Dec at the river.

At first I thought it was all the exercise Bear was getting. A couple walks a day on top of the trip to the river with Grandma exhausted him. I’m beginning to wonder if it might be an increase in extracurricular dining. Yesterday and today I think we got to the bottom of it.

Every few days there would be one or two packages I’d find around the house or out in the backyard: An empty box of cereal in the TV room, a torn up bread bag outside, the butter dish on the ground. Concerned about manners, Bear used utensils as well. Next to the cookie sheet on the living room floor is the serrated knife. Beside the Tupperware is the spatula, chewed to oblivion.

Need extra sleep.

Need extra sleep.

Yesterday I got home and found a bit of dried olive Ciabatta on the floor. Weird, I thought, as I picked it up and cut a thick slice to slather with butter. It wouldn’t be the first time that the animals known as teenagers had left half eaten food around the house. However, later I found the bag that went with the loaf of bread. It was torn and had some puncture wounds. Stirring the boys from their Xbox game I came across the remains of the Tillamook baby loaf, a Ritz cracker container, and a dead bird (pretty sure that was the cats, though).


More sleep.

At dinner I asked Declan about the bread and whether he and his friend ate it. Dec explained that instead of Bear greeting Dec at the door with the usual dog toy in his mouth, Bear had a loaf of bread in his mouth. Of course he didn’t notice this until his friend pointed it out to him.

Today I came home and found the paper wrapper from the giant Costco size dried salami on the floor next to Bear’s couch and the remains of the Costco size Irish cheese between the couches.

So it may be that Bear is exhausted from all the exercise he is getting. The amount of walking, running, and swimming could certainly tire a dog out. But I’m beginning to believe it is all the cheese and crackers, and salami and bread he is consuming. With his increase in exercise must come a commensurate increase in calories.


IMG_20131013_101218Completely unrelated to the food intake, but central to Bear’s job (hopefully one day), Bear continues to signal Dec or Maggie AFTER they sense a low. This morning Maggie woke up and went to her kit. This is a sure sign to me that she feels low because if she didn’t feel low I would have to remind her to check her blood sugar no less than four times before she would actually check. Bear was sleeping on the couch, no doubt finishing digestion of some Ciabatta bread. The positive news is that Bear woke up and went to Maggie while she was checking her blood sugar. I don’t think he would have gotten up had he not smelled the low. So that is at least a move in the right direction.

Mid May. Bear’s birthday come and gone

Bear knows his place with Jelly

Bear knows his place with Jelly

And we didn’t do anything. Maggie kept asking how we were going to celebrate his birthday. She feels slighted. He is taking up precious resources that should be going to her. On top of that, he was consuming some of her precious belongings, things like shoes, books, and brushes. And then he could sniff out treats stashed away in her room: sleeves of crackers, gum, candy canes, and sodas. As convenient as it might be to have a dog let you know when your blood sugar is out of balance, the cost in Maggie’s eyes was well beyond the benefit.

Sitting with the team for a post-game talk

Sitting with the team for a post-game talk

So in Maggie’s eyes, Bear continues to be a bummer, taking over the pie chart of Winicki home resources. Before Bear the Maggie pie slice was near or beyond 50%. Remember her Bat Mitzvah was only a month before he came home with us. In the beginning Bear took up a lot of the time pie-chart with training and traveling to training. As time progressed Bear appeared to be taking over other resources as well. He got really sick and went to the pet-hospital for a week. He was featured in a newspaper article, taking over the ever elusive fame pie-chart. He even began encroaching on the topic-of-conversation pie-chart, with many people interested to know how Bear was doing.

A nap on the ride home.

A nap on the ride home.

With Bear dominating so many resource charts, it only made sense that such a milestone as turning one-year old would not pass without a significant festival, which would drain the party/celebration account away from children and finalize the dominance of Bear’s place in the home. So when Maggie would ask what we were doing for his birthday, we would respond with panic that we hadn’t heard back from the caterers, and that the bounce house was reserved but final payment needed to be made, and that the color scheme needed to be finalized before sending out the invitations. And though Maggie could sense we were joking, you could sense something in her that wasn’t quite sure if we were joking. A slight tilt of her head and a squint of the eyes tried to calculate how much, if any, of the response was true.

On his birthday.

On his birthday.

And as much as she may have wanted to have a big party (I’m certain she had plans to co-opt it as her own), she was somewhat relieved when May 2nd came and went without a DJ, Photo Booth, and caterer.

Life continues. Bear has good days, signaling when Maggie was low in the morning and energetically returning to me after calling for him. And he has bad days, sleeping on Dec while he is low and playing chase-me at the park. Bear continues to visit my classroom at least once a week. Several students breeze past me at the door to look behind the desk to see if Bear is visiting. During teacher appreciation week someone told me that they liked me, but they were REALLY happy about having Bear around. I can empathize with Maggie and that shrinking pie-chart.

Sidenote: Dec and I spent three days and two nights at Science camp with his 5th grade classmates. The instructor asked everyone to introduce themselves and say why they are awesome. Declan introduced himself and said that he was awesome because he has a service-dog.