LEYDEN – After several years of travel and fundraising, a 23-year-old Leyden resident completed a training program and is reunited with her diabetic warning dog and her new best friend Pretzel.
Pretzel, a 14-month-old Golden Retriever, attended service dog training when she was 5 weeks old, said Julia Nicholas-Duprey. The couple attended a training session together October 3-8 and spent time bonding on their Airbnb every evening. Back in Massachusetts, Pretzel will live with Nicholas-Duprey on her family’s property at Leyden Glen Farm.
“She’s very good,” she said of Pretzel. “At some point she will take part in UMass Amherst with me. I’m really excited to take her home and start the rest of our lives. “
Nicholas-Duprey, a 2017 Pioneer Valley Regional School graduate who is now co-president of the College Diabetes Network at UMass Amherst, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6. It’s a genetic disorder that she shares with her aunt and grandfather. In addition to her diabetes, Nicholas-Duprey has a neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up in the brain. She underwent several brain surgeries at a young age.
While a diabetic warning dog won’t help with her hydrocephalus, Nicholas-Duprey said Pretzel will help her manage her health and increase her independence. While she has a continuous blood glucose meter, she said it doesn’t always warn her in time to balance her blood sugar levels. Having pretzels will help alleviate some fear of constantly monitoring your blood sugar levels.
Diabetic Warning Dogs are trained to monitor odors in the air for a specific odor in human breath that is related to rapidly falling or low blood sugar levels. You will then be trained to “warn” the person with diabetes, usually with meaningful touches such as a touch of a button.
Nicholas-Duprey said she can get low blood sugar at night and risks sleeping through the dangerously low levels or even the alarm on her insulin pump. Having a diabetic warning dog will help her better warn her if this happens while she is asleep or at any time of the day, she said. Pretzel is a service dog graduate, but her special training to monitor her owner’s blood sugar levels is now continuing at her home in Leyden.
“Like humans, her education never stops and she’s learning all the time,” said Nicholas-Duprey. “We have a whole book for training with different commands.”
The October training course was held in Kansas by Cares Inc., a company that trains medical alert, seizure, and diabetic alert dogs, as well as comfort and therapy dogs. Part of Pretzel’s training was also done through a program with Terri Haute Prison in Indiana when she was 5 weeks to about 6 months old.
Other participants in the course were mostly therapy dogs who will work in schools and one who will go to a nursing home. There were also several service dogs with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that Nicholas-Duprey said would find homes with owners in Canada. There was only one other diabetic warning dog.
“During the class, we mostly worked on commands like walk, heel, come, get down, stay, get up, and take a break,” she said. “At the end of the week we had to pass a public access test to make us a certified team.”
In addition to her own wellbeing, Nicholas-Duprey aims to enhance the ability of others to find the health partner they need. She worked with State Representative Paul Mark, D-Peru, to move in February for a bill providing coverage and access to service dogs or service dogs in training for those with qualified disabilities. In addition, the draft law provides that service dogs are covered by health insurance.
To help reduce the cost of owning a dog, Nicholas-Duprey continues to raise funds through GoFundMe, which can be found at gofund.me/2b470b49. She thanked everyone who had previously contributed to a GoFundMe and said that she could not have afforded Pretzel without this support from the community.
At some point, when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, she’s hoping to hold a meeting for those who donated to meet Pretzel.
In the meantime, to keep up with Nicholas-Duprey and Pretzel, find them on Facebook at bit.ly/3AR1DFx. You can also follow them on Instagram @pretzelthediabeticalertdog. A blog dedicated to her service dog efforts can be found at bit.ly/2YZsJsT.
Reporter Zack DeLuca can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4579.