Published on August 01, 2013
Jamie Mullins tests his daughter Sophie’s blood sugar as their service dog Peaches signals by pawing at him. Peaches will become restless or paw at Sophie’s parents when Sophie’s blood sugars are too high or too low. In this case her blood sugars were a bit low. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Published on August 01, 2013
Four-year-old Sophie Mullins hugs her service dog Peaches in their back yard in Paradise. Peaches alerts Sophie’s parents when her blood sugars are too high or too low. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Father says diabetic alert dog proving her worth for daughter Sophie
Sophie Mullins, 4, and Peaches do not have the typical relationship one might expect between a child and her family’s eight-month-old Labrador retriever.
Yes, Sophie does get to periodically cuddle the dog or play with her in the back yard. But when Peaches paws at either of Sophie’s parents, the situation gets a little more serious.
Peaches is a diabetic alert dog that is trained to monitor Sophie’s blood-sugar levels through scent. If those levels are too high or too low, the dog will alert Sophie’s parents.
The dog was purchased from Warren Retrievers in Virginia and arrived in St. John’s in April. Sophie has Type 1 diabetes.
Since her arrival, Peaches has already proven her worth in the eyes of Jamie Mullins, Sophie’s dad.
“It’s been good. It’s changed everything, actually,” he said.
The night of her arrival, the family went out for supper and then went to do some shopping. Before long, Peaches raised her paws to alert the family that Sophie’s blood-sugar levels were getting low.
“We checked, and she was right,” said Jamie, who lives in Paradise with his fiancée Heidi Pavelka and their two children, Sophie and her 22-month-old brother Owen.
One week later, Peaches responded to a situation and likely prevented a hospitalization for Sophie.
Jamie was on his own one night looking after Sophie when Peaches appeared restless and alerted him that something was wrong after he asked what was the matter.
Sophie’s blood-sugar levels were down to 2.1 millimoles per litre (mmol/L). A normal reading typically falls between 5-6 mmol/L.
“She would have bottomed right out if Peaches hadn’t alerted (me), and I wouldn’t have bothered to check her for at least another two hours,” said Jamie, who thought she had received enough insulin before going to bed.
When looking to get a reaction from Peaches, Jamie or Heidi will get Sophie to breathe on the dog. If the dog then raises her paws, that means Sophie’s parents need to take a reading for her blood-sugar levels as they may be getting low. But if Peaches feels everything is OK, she will most likely turn her head away from them.
The dog receives a treat each time she correctly assesses Sophie’s situation.
“She’s motivated by the treats, and that’s the way we’re going to keep it,” said Jamie.
Pavelka estimates that Peaches detects approximately 95 per cent of Sophie’s out-of-range blood-sugar level moments.
“At this point, we would only expect her to get 50 per cent, because she’s not supposed to be fully trained until she’s two years old,” said Pavelka.
The couple learned how to use the dog with Sophie when a trainer stayed with them in April, reinforcing the fundamentals that Jamie and Heidi needed to focus on. That trainer is due to return every 90-120 days to check up on Peaches up until the time she turns two years of age.
While the dog does have a responsibility to look after Sophie, they have become noticeably fond of one another and enjoy playing together. Sophie’s parents are fine with that.
“We didn’t get a robot — we got a dog,” Jamie notes with a laugh.
A trained dog like Peaches costs $40,000. The Mullins family managed to raise $25,000, a figure that was greatly aided by an anonymous donation. The remaining $15,000 was covered by Warren Retrievers’ charitable group, Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers.
Content in this story has been edited from an earlier published version to correct the name of an organization.