Atticus is an attention-magnet. Folks are drawn to the 6-month-old’s auburn coat and big, brown eyes.
“He’s just the most lovable dog,” says owner Erik Lazor of Madison. But this labrador isn’t simply a loyal pet. He is a diabetic-alert dog that helps the 14-year-old monitor his glucose level with his highly sensitive nose.
“He can smell really well,” says Erik, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes four years ago. “We smell in parts per million; they smell in parts per trillion, so he can smell the chemical changes on my body.”
Erik’s mom believes this relationship will help ensure her son’s health and hopes to educate the public about the benefits of these amazing animals.
“He’s working out phenomenally,” says Beth Lazor of their seven weeks with Atticus.
Erik previously had a continuous glucose monitor inserted into his lower back, but activities such as basketball weren’t easy.
“It was a huge needle and I have four brothers,” says Erik. “We’re always horsing around, so it got knocked around and it hurt a lot. So we were looking for any alternative.”
During a doctor’s appointment, Lazor spotted a woman with a canine friend: “I pounced across the room and said, ‘Where did you get this dog?’ She was referred to Service Dogs By Warren Retrievers (www.sdwr.org), a Virginia organization that also works with people who have autism or seizures.
When Atticus whines, Erik pricks his finger and tests his blood-sugar level, which is often “all over the place.”.If the reading is under 70, he needs to eat. Over 130, he uses his insulin pump.
“The dog can smell a high or a low 45 minutes before his testing meter can detect it,” says Lazor, noting that when the dog is older, he will use his paw and nose to signal alerts and will someday be able to press a button to call 911 if Erik is in trouble.
Incredible, for sure, but purchasing a medical-alert dog is a expensive endeavor. Atticus, with training, cost $22,000, which the Lazors will pay over three years. Warren Retrievers helps families organize fundraisers to help with this fee, along with vet bills and food. Beth hopes that someday this option will be covered by insurance: “Because it’s very cost-effective by keeping the kids … in a more healthy glucose range, there will be less complications down the road.”
Erik, now home-schooled, will attend the public high school next fall with Atticus by his side. He also just enjoyed his first parent-free camp out with the Boy Scouts.
“With the help of the dog, he’ll be more independent, he’ll get to experience all the things a 14-year-old boy should be able to experience,” says Lazor.
Erik has found dealing with diabetes to be extremely difficult, worried that his unpredictable blood sugar levels could cause organ damage or stroke. But, he says, Atticus has lifted his spirits, improved his confidence and changed his outlook: “He’s my best friend. He’s a great companion.”