Highs and Lows

Post soccer tryouts Voodoo doughnut appropriately named

Post soccer tryouts Voodoo doughnut.

We were doing alright for a short time there. Pantry door was being closed with the loaf of bread in the pantry. And Dec would even occasionally give his NPH shot before going to school, which not only kept him at a reasonable blood-sugar level, but also let him throw down snacks after school without a shot.

The walks with Bear were more enjoyable with the lack of pantry snacking. With a stable diet of dog food, Bear poops were regular, easy to pick up, and generally one per walk.

We went off the rails. Maybe the change in weather relaxed everything, but suddenly Bear eats a loaf every second or third day. Tiring of bread, he now dabbles in other snacks. He discovered the box of granola bars, a post low-blood sugar snack, accessible on the pantry floor. Though he was able to hork down nearly a baker’s dozen, the individual wrapped not-for-resale packaging foiled his parvo-recovered intestinal track. Like the cat leaving a mouse at the doorstep after tiring of playing with it, and not wanting to eat it (people say it is a “gift” to the owners, but I believe cats just get bored with it), Bear left a pile of granola bars, packaging included, just inside the front door. Thank you very much.

Individually-wrapped, not-for-resale pile of granola bars and wrappers.

Individually-wrapped, not-for-resale pile of granola bars and wrappers.

As a frequent consumer of granola bars I am thankful that they have dispensed with the raisin granola flavor. I would have been more upset had Bear eaten a bunch of granola bars knowing that the precious peanut-butter and chocolate-chip flavors were consumed. I wonder who actually likes the granola raisin flavor. Raisins simply wreck the vehicle they travel in, be it a cookie, granola, or cereal. I digress.

I realized that training Bear in Dec’s bedroom, or just downstairs in general, might be a good idea. To lower that hurdle, I purchased and placed a bag of dried liver in Dec’s closet. Shocking that Bear has not figured out how to get into that bag of goodies.

Relaxing on the couch.

Relaxing on the couch.

With a slight increase in training, Bear has picked up on a reliable “tell” that someone is low: the Capri-sun juice pouch. Dec or Maggie would be low. After sipping on the juice pouch, Bear would plop from the couch, stretch, and signal with paw and bark. Do we reward this signal? I told Bear we wanted a leading indicator, let us know before the juice is consumed, not a lagging indicator of low-blood sugar. Nonetheless, we rewarded this signal, then waited for the appropriate no-low-blood sugar in the house to reverse this lagging indicator.

Home alone with Bear, I pulled out a juice pouch. At the sound of the pouch leaving the box, Bear jumped up and signaled. I admonished him for the false signal. After several of these, he quit signaling the pouch.

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Approaching year three

Muddy day chasing the ball.

Muddy day chasing the ball.

It has been awhile. Nearly three years. We are settled into our routines. Unfortunately, one of those routines is not scent training. With all the intentions to do so, it has not happened. For me it is partly the constant vigilance that needs to occur. Whenever Bear signals people need to check blood sugar and appropriately signal back to Bear whether the scent he picked up on was the appropriate one.

In fits and starts I’ll do scent training. I’ll get all the materials ready. The scent vial will be in the fridge. The high value treats in a container. And I’ll collect new scent samples from Dec and Maggie when they are low. In the morning I’ll do a quick training with three or four treats being given out. The afternoon training consists of trying to sneak up on sleeping Bear with a scent. After alerting the first time I’ll hide the scent in different parts of the house.

Cuddling in the back seat.

Cuddling in the back seat.

And after a few days of training, Bear signals more often, but not very accurately. He cycles through different triggers to signal for. Bear signaled when he saw either Maggie or Dec with a kit, getting ready to check their blood sugar. Not a bad idea, as after checking they are sometimes low. There was a time when Bear signaled as soon as Maggie showed up. I realized this happened after training with a couple of low-scent vials from Maggie. Again, not a complete whiff, Bear attempts to connect triggers during training. More recently Bear signals whenever he sees a juice pouch. To his credit the juice pouch comes out to treat a low blood sugar. So he tries to get the signal, but for some reason he is not getting the scent. And we haven’t been doing a lot of training recently, so the only time we “train” is after Maggie or Dec are really low and they sidled up to him after finding out they are low with the kit.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear loves the treats. And he certainly won’t get any of the leftover Passover brisket without signaling. So he continues to try. In hindsight, Bear signals in places and times that are similar to the training: in the afternoon with everyone around (especially me). Bear has not alerted in the middle of the night for I don’t know how long. And Maggie has a low two out of three nights. Luckily, she still wakes from the low. To his defense, Dec’s bed looks pretty comfortable.

For the time being, Bear is simply a lovable dog to hang around with.

Playing with the cousins.

Playing with the cousins.

Turning the corner

Bear takes a selfie

Bear takes a selfie

So Declan asked, “When can I take Bear to school?” I thought, ‘it’ll be a while, quite a while; and do you really want to take him to school?’ But I said, “You could probably take him this year, but we have to work with Bear to calm him down more in public places.”

This conversation occurred a few times, along with Declan suggesting that we take Bear to the store more often to get him more calm in public. I think it is great that Dec is thinking about this. And I wonder if there are some slightly ulterior motives. You see Declan is on the shy side. And he is in middle school. I’m wondering if he is thinking Bear might be a great icebreaker with some coeds. Bear is as outgoing as Declan is an introvert. I imagine Dec walking down the hallway, Bear on leash walking up to every kid for a hello. And some of them going crazy, “Oh my God! How cute! He is so soft! What’s his name?” Which is where Dec would finally be able to step in and have words with them.

Letting Dec share his couch on a sick day.

Letting Dec share his couch on a sick day.

But maybe I’m just projecting what I’d have been thinking if I were in Dec’s position. I’d have leveraged it past diminishing returns, into the land of negative returns. So maybe Dec just really wants to be around Bear more, to have Bear have a fuller life, one bigger than the two walks a day and laying belly-up on the couch. And this is more in Dec’s nature, always looking out for those around him.

And so we dug into the closet to find the “Service Dog” vest for Bear. Bear remembers it, pulling his ears back and even shying away when he sees it. But once it is on, he is fine.

All smiles

All smiles

Taking him into the store I remember how I used to take him when he was a puppy and wonder what I was thinking. I’m not sure why, but I would take him in the store and do the shopping. Bear lurched for every little crumb on the floor and I’d be trying to control him with one hand while pushing the cart with the other. I realize hindsight is 20:20, but I’m shocked I’d never thought of walking through the store, Bear in tow, without shopping. Now when I take Bear I feel superior to my self of two years ago who tried shopping while taking Bear around.

Bear is older now as well, which makes the stroll around the store easier. He no longer dives for each little crumb on the floor. He is wizened now, he knows a loaf of bread waits for him in the pantry, and he must know the foraging return is much greater at home. Which brings us to the bread aisle. This is by for the most challenging part of the store for Bear. My presence dampens his drive to forage, but he looks to bread, planning his return to the bread aisle off-leash, and probably calculating if he could take the loaf all the way back to the TV room, the place to consume contraband.

Bear is not only less eager to sniff and grab at the nose-level food, but he is also not as interested in meeting everyone. This as much as the interest in food makes the lap around the store more promising. And looking ahead, makes me think that Dec might actually be able to take Bear to school someday.

Alerts

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear is alerting more often. He is keen to the signal that the glucose meter means someone might be low. So he always signals the person checking blood sugar, which is not a bad strategy for Bear, but the timing is all wrong for us. The kids have not had many night time lows recently, and this remains the blind spot for Bear’s signaling. If only I could be ninja-like, sneaking into Dec’s room in the middle of the night, not waking Bear, and holding a scent-sample to his nose (after checking both Maggie and Dec to make sure they weren’t already low), then maybe we could get Bear’s heavy sleeping days behind him, and get him a bit more aware of potential low-scents in his area.

Litter-mate

Bear got to meet up with one of his litter-mates. They met at the river together, caught up on this and that, and traded new moves.

Trying to figure this out

Bear celebrating the Cal overtime win over Colorado.

Bear celebrating the Cal overtime win over Colorado.

Yesterday Declan stayed home from school with a headache. He was hunkered down in his room for most of the day, avoiding light. This is a dream come true for Bear. Not only does he get to be with Dec through the night, but he also gets to sleep with him through the day. It was only when Grandma came over that Bear barked at the door to get out of Dec’s room.

Later in the afternoon Bear signaled Declan with some of his annoying barks. Dec was in the mid 80s, so Bear got some yummy hot dog morsels. Declan had a snack to keep his blood sugar from going lower.

About forty minutes later, Declan sat on the couch eating a grilled cheese, and Bear barked at him. Playful at heart, it is not unusual for Bear to yap away trying to get someone to play with him. And it is even more common for Bear to do this to Declan. Throw a grilled cheese sandwich that he might like to try, and the message seems clear that Bear is wanting some play. However, Declan would not acquiesce. He still had a lingering headache and was enjoying some quiet. So Declan “scolded” Bear, telling him “No” and to be quiet.

However, Bear persisted. And finally the gears started turning in my head. Maggie wasn’t home yet, so it couldn’t be her low. I’d just downed several handfuls of chocolate chips (damn Costco), so it couldn’t be me. And I thought since Dec had treated his “low” from earlier that it couldn’t be him. No harm in checking, so I grabbed the kit and checked my blood sugar before passing it off to Dec. And Dec was 62. Bear nailed it.

And he was pretty excited about it.

Other recent “hits”

  • Bear was signaling and signaling. He was pawing and barking. I checked mine, Maggie checked hers. We were all not low. Could Bear be signaling Maggie’s sort of high blood sugar? Five minutes later Declan comes home from playing at the park. He is 57. Could Bear have smelled that one? The park is only seven blocks away, so maybe.
  • 530 am and the bark from downstairs is heard. Dec is fine, but Maggie is 62. Bear is quite proud of this, prancing around the house after.
  • Home from soccer practice, Bear signals with a paw. Dec is low.

Recent “misses”

  • 1408051310200Home from her soccer game, Maggie is 61. Bear snoozes on the couch.
  • Everyone in bed, including Bear, Maggie checks and is 57. Bear snoozes in Dec’s room.

Going shopping

Bear is home alone, asIMG_20141001_135336427 usual. He takes advantage of the shrapnel left behind from breakfast. He also enjoys perusing the dry goods area in the pantry. Today he finished off the bread crumbs and Dave’s Killer Bread. He took out the bag of rice, but did not partake in it.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

IMG_20140527_073024106_HDRSummer wound down with a lot of soccer. Maggie, in particular, was participating in a lot of hard practices. She had two weeks of “camp”, followed by a week of tryouts. With all the exercise came quite a few lows. In fact, she was getting up a few times a night with lows. And sometimes Bear was down there barking away, letting us know that he needed a treat because someone was low. And sometimes Bear was cashed out on Declan’s bed (I’m still not sure how they both sleep on that little single).

So this was good and bad. Bear signaling in the middle of the night was great. It got us up and able to treat the lows. The bad was two-fold. First, it got Bear conditioned to getting up in the middle of the night. He sensed the time was ripe for a hot-dog morsel and would begin barking. Second, there were times when Maggie felt the low and treated it on her own. It would have been nice to be able to bump Bear out of bed to force signal those lows. However, Maggie can be stealth in the wee hours while treating a low. And I can barely function in the small hours of the night and my blood sugar is fine; I can’t expect Maggie to get Bear and give treats.

IMG_20140822_131753042With the start of the school year I have been getting up early to take Bear on a walk. I’ve totally abandoned the leash on these walks. It’s early enough that there is hardly any other souls out, and the streets we cross have no traffic. Furthermore, Bear has become less and less interested in all the little things. He no longer chases leaves or bolts to say hello to every person, dog, and puppy he sees. He is more focused on the important thing in his life: the tennis ball and cat food. We walk to the park and I throw the ball for him. On these walks he has learned the houses that have outdoor cats and that leave a food  bowl out on the porch. And on our way home he knows exactly where the water dish is four houses from the park.

The regular weekday walks are good and all during the week. And though Bear knows the map to each outdoor cat-food dish, he still is unable to distinguish a weekday from a weekend day. At 530 on each Saturday and Sunday Bear barks. I bump my way downstairs only to remember the kit is upstairs. Back downstairs, I check both Dec and Maggie. Both in range. The first time this happened Bear was upstairs barking at the door to get out. I think this immediacy was from the bag of bagels and chocolate chips he polished off the previous afternoon.

I’m learning, though. Now when I get up at 530 to check on the weekend, I tell Bear to lay down and wait while I check blood sugars. If they are in range, I put him back on Dec’s bed.

Sleeping under the hammocks.

Sleeping under the hammocks.

The summer was long and stressful for Bear.

1408051310200A lot of time on the couch.

Sleeping in the Airstream with Dec.

Sleeping in the Airstream with Dec.

Time hanging with Dec.

Ever wonder how to teach your dog how to beg?

Ever wonder how to teach your dog how to beg?

And time learning how to beg in the kitchen from Grandma.

The beginning of summer

Another rough day on the couch.

Another rough day on the couch.

And now he is lucky to get one scent-training each week. The morning comes and I hear one bark from down in Dec’s room. Does he need to go to the bathroom? Does he hear Heather getting ready? Or is he actually signaling that someone downstairs has low blood sugar? I lay in bed waiting for the sole bark. And what if I ignore it? What then?

I wake hearing Heather readying for work. There is no need for me to get up, but I still have this sense that I should do something. Summer started a short two weeks prior, and I still have an impulse that something needs doing. Simultaneously, there is a tamping down of ambition. A voice reminding me that it is summer, I can sleep in. And then my ears perk in anticipation of the sole-bark. My mind begins with predictions. How many times in the last week has the sole-bark appeared? What time did it occur at? And did Bear get a chance to get outside before heading to bed? He might need to go pee.

So it is quite likely the sole-bark interrupts my predictions. Onto second-level predictions, that of false-positives. With recent sole-barks as the best predictor, a false-positive signal will be the likely outcome, in which case what do I do?

Do I descend to Dec’s room, check blood sugar, confirm the false-positive, letting Bear interact with the adults, which is really what he wants? The sole-bark changed from “Hey! Someone is low!”, to “Hey! I hear you upstairs and would like to say hello!”

And so I lay waiting for the sole bark, continuing to debate the best action. Given all the time we’ve put in to training, it is difficult to ignore the bark. I am also one of those sleep-Nazi-parents. Though I don’t practice it, I am militant about kids getting to bed early and sleeping a long time. From the beginning I made sure the kids had a routine and got to bed. The sole-bark turns to multiple-barks if left alone, which would interrupt the sleep.

Should I ask Heather to be quieter? She isn’t making a lot of noise, but my ears are primed for the sole-bark and they are hearing the little things. The fridge door just opened. Something was just placed on the counter. Dog’s ears are certainly more sensitive than mine. It’s got to be coming soon. The front-door just opened. And there it is. The bark breaks the slumber. And another bark! What is with the multiple barks? He is getting quite cheeky. And three more barks!

As if there was any doubt what I would do, I jump from bed. In hopes of being able to reward a positive signal, I grab the high-value treats from the fridge. Could it be that Bear hears the fridge and expects the high-value treats? Turning Pavlov’s bells into Bear’s fridge-door.

In this case Dec was low. Apparently the multiple-barks means something different from the sole-bark. But I still wonder when to throw the towel in. At moments of strength I know that one or two scent-training sessions a day would get us there. And I am certain of this up until I pull out the scent and no-scent vials for training. There is little difference in Bear’s response to these different vials. And at moments of weakness I see the slide to pet-hood for Bear, realizing that he is already 95% of the way there.

Bear sings along with Dec practicing his Torah portion

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.