CONCORD, Calif. (KGO) --Service dogs have been helping the disabled and visually impaired for decades. But now an innovative program started in the Bay Area is now training dogs to help another group of people manage a potentially dangerous disease.
As a diabetic, Suzi Powers has to stay aware of both her blood sugar levels and her food intake. But now she's hoping a new live-in coach will be able to help. He's a black lab by the name of Laser, who can sense changes in Powers' blood stream.
"Throughout the day, sugars going up and down, he'll let me know when I'm started to trend down," Powers explained to ABC7 News.
Laser was trained by a unique Bay Area non-profit -- Dogs 4 Diabetics. At their center in Concord, service dogs are taught to recognize chemical changes in the perspiration of diabetics. When they sense the onset of hypoglycemia, or lowering blood sugar, the dogs can raise a kind of signal flag, known as a bringsel, attached to their collar.
Trainer Carrie Skym says the dogs can often recognize a potentially dangerous pattern and provide an early warning.
"Low blood sugars can be debilitating for diabetics, confusion, acting drunk, can even result in loss of consciousness if not caught in time," she said. "So these dogs can sometimes warn them 30 minutes in advance."
And that extra time can be lifesaving. Dr. Steven Wolf battles diabetes and says he's become less sensitive to his own blood sugar symptoms over the years.
"If I'm driving and he alerts me, then typically I'll pull over and check," Wolf said. "And I have food in the car now so I can eat. He also will also not let me get in the car if I'm dropped."
The non-profit works with groups like Guide Dogs for the Blind, which helps screen and provide the dogs for cross-training. Founder Mark Ruefenacht helped pioneer the training regimen, which can run up to $40,000 per dog, a cost that is not passed on to patients.
"The dogs are not fee-based to our clients," Ruefenacht said. "So our clients come to us, and they do not pay a fee to receive our dogs."
Suzi Powers hopes her new relationship with Laser will be life changing.
"Part of it is the companionship and the love that a dog gives you," she said. "And then on top of it, he's a working dog that's making my life better."
Dogs 4 Diabetics relies partially on donations to cover training costs. If you'd like more information on the group go to www.dogs4diabetics.com.
Written and produced by Tim Didion