Pata d’Açúcar rescues abandoned dogs to help control diabetes

Nuno Benedetto has been a dog trainer for 30 years. Seven years ago, a diabetic teacher asked him to train his dog so the animal could detect dangerous dips in blood sugar. “It was quite a challenge. I knew nothing about diabetes, but I knew something about dog training,” Ni Te recalls.

For about a year, Nuno and his client groomed the dog. The result was so relaxing that a professional thought if this challenge could be a “starting point to help more people”. And it was. In December 2016, Pata d’Açúcar was born.

The association, where about 20 volunteers without any pay work, rescue dogs from abandoned animal shelters each year and groom them to become medical alert dogs, “enabling a new opportunity for the lives of animals and the quality of life for people with diabetes”.

“Every year we choose from our partners those who want to take advantage of these dogs and go to abandoned animal shelters, we choose dogs according to their profile, and for a year we work on the animal, at no cost to the “Future Teacher” Nuno Benedetto explains.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Pata d’Açúcar, based in Arrentela (Seixal), explains that dogs always belong to the association. “They have health and personal accident insurance and food paid for during that year of joint training,” the costs to Pata d’Açcar’s partners, under Pata d’Açcar law, where companies like Purina, Mapfre Seguros, DNA Tech, or Abbott, one of the labs The major international associated with diabetes.

At the end of this year of joint action, the association transfers the dog that remains registered in its name to the family that adopts it permanently, and also benefits from favorable terms in terms of food, insurance and everything related to sugar. Available.

How are animals prepared?

What is the work of dogs? “These dogs are companion animals but have added value,” says Nuno Benedetto. “They work through the sense of smell to detect low blood sugar in advance, even before the teacher is hypoglycemic,” the coach explains. So, when the blood glucose level reaches 90 mg per deciliter of blood, the bells ring. “In some cases, dogs even anticipate electronic devices that patients use for half an hour” to control their glucose.

Pata d’Açúcar President explains, however, that “these dogs do not replace any equipment, they are just a supplement.” But the advantages are not only the direct advantages. There are also indirect matters. “The owner who has a dog has to take him for a walk. Now, though, you are doing physical exercise, which is a must for any diabetic. And not only that: when they are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they tend to isolate themselves. To walk the dog, and these dogs are recognized, the owner does not isolate himself, and always interacts with people who approach him on the street.”

How do dogs detect low sugar? Pata d’Açúcar works in partnership with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nova de Lisboa’s Faculty of Science and Technology, but the coach assumes that “in the scientific world, it is not yet known what substances they discover”.

The work of preparing the animal, which takes about a year, is “teaching the dog that when it encounters saliva samples with a certain glycemic value, it can reach for a toy,” explains Nuno Benedetto, who adds that “the work should always be done with Positive Reinforcement: “A dog should sniff because he has something so good to gain from it, it can’t be forced.”

The process is “less complicated than it looks”. The tricky thing, he says, is that “every dog ​​is a dog and there is no middle standard”. “What it takes to work is to get the dog to pay attention at the right time,” he asserts.

‘must help’

And when that happens, “it’s unbelievable,” says Renato Loreiro, 46, a type 1 diabetic who has found Pata d’Açúcar “essential help,” and more so because his youngest son, Lucas, aged Now 10, he also has the disease he was diagnosed with at the age of 6.

“The link has been an incredible help, I would even say essential. It’s not a dog, it’s a family member,” he told NiT, adding that the bigeye has already been “very helpful a few times.” “I don’t think I knew how to live without them anymore,” he admits.

Link, who has been trained by the association for a year, proves to be docile, companion and always attentive. “In our house, Lucas’ bedroom is at one end of the house and the living room is at the other. Just yesterday we were watching TV in the living room and Lucas was already in bed. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Link got up from where he was, beside us, and went into Lucas’ room. , and he started sobbing and came to us, troubled. We immediately realized what was happening, and Lucas was about to go into hypoglycemia,” says Renato.

This family man does not hide that “life has changed a lot” when the dog arrived at their house. “It’s peace of mind, as you can imagine, and above all for us parents. Knowing that Lucas is asleep and that someone is watching him is very comforting,” says Renato, adding that Link is always with him.

“I work at E-Redes in Coimbra, fortunately my company recognized the benefit the dog provides for me, and therefore, Link accompanies me on a regular basis,” he told NiT. “The other day I was in a meeting and had to interrupt it because Link was yelling next to me. I immediately realized what it was, I had very low sugar.”

At Pata d’Açúcar, which has already taken 18 dogs out of shelters to train them for this purpose, there is a battle that has yet to be won. “Our dogs are not yet considered assistance dogs,” like guide dogs, for example. Nuno Benedetto says this is a demanding and delicate process.

“We have to get recognition from Assistance Dogs International, which has strict requirements. We have to go through with the application, which has to be approved, then we are still under review and only then can we get assistance dogs,” he concludes.

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