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Service dog helps owner monitor her diabetes

By Keldy Ortiz
Dec. 6, 2012 at 6:06 a.m.
Updated Dec. 7, 2012 at 6:07 a.m.

Barba Patton holds her dog, Cherie, which she carries around to monitor her blood sugar level.

The law

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, service animals are allowed access to public places. Federal law makes it illegal to prevent service animals from entering public places. ADA also requires that public places accommodate service animals.

What was a regular shopping day for Barba Patton turned out to be a teaching moment.

Patton went shopping last week at the Victoria Hobby Lobby, but was not allowed inside with her pet for 45 minutes, she said.

"They said that I couldn't bring her in," Patton said. "I told her (a store employee) that she was a service animal. Her response was nothing. She stared at me."

Patton takes her poodle, Cherie, with her everywhere. Patton is a diabetic, and Cherie is her certified service dog used to monitor Patton's blood sugar levels.

When Cherie, who was registered as a service dog in July, discovers that Patton has a low blood sugar level, she does a combination of growling and licking Patton. According to several dog service sites, a diabetic's body scent changes blood sugar levels become too high or too low.

Hobby Lobby manager Eddie Derosia was unaware this type of service was available. Derosia said service animals are usually on a leash, not in a bag. Patton had her dog in a basket.

"It was a new experience for me because I've never seen a service animal in a carrier," Derosia said. "Once she showed me that it was registered, it was fine."

While national statistics are unavailable about how many people use service dogs in the U.S., Carrie Skym trains dogs for patients who have diabetes. As program manager at Dogs4Diabetes, based in California, she trains dogs to be used for diabetics. Skym said that service dogs are being used for patients who have diabetes, but are not commonly used.

Skym said she was surprised when she heard about Patton's experience.

"Diabetes is covered under the American Diabetes Association," she said. "Because a dog is trained to do a specific task then they are allowed into public places since they are able to help people."

Founder of Dogs4Diabetics Mark Ruefenacht said there may be problems with the legitimacy of service dogs.

"As people try to access their pet dogs into public accommodations," Ruefenacht said, "it's harming legitimate service dog users, such as dogs that are used to guide the blind."

Patton, who is a math professor at University of Houston-Victoria, said she takes Cherie to work. Her students understand why she brings the dog. When Cherie growls during class, Patton said, her students remind her that she needs to check her blood sugar.

Patton hopes others will understand that she doesn't just carry Cherie for leisure.

People "need to be aware that I'm not just carrying a pet around for fun, that it is for work," Patton said.

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