Our popular Southern Issue 2011 cover photo, shot by John Hafner, featured a beautiful Chessie. But what we didn’t know at the time was our cover model isn’t just your typical retriever.
Bravo (Fetch Express Bravo Zula SH CDX RN NAJ) is owned by KC Owens, a Type One diabetic and part-time dog trainer. He spent years as a certified Delta Therapy Dog and volunteered at Aspen Ridge Rehab Hospital, where he took patients for walks, pulled wheelchairs, and let stroke victims practice speech and limb movement by giving him commands and brushing him.
Bravo’s also an accomplished retriever and dock jumper, with his AKC titles in Rally, Obedience, Agility and Hunt Tests. He won the K9 Hero of the Year Award at the Soldier Hollow Sheepdog Classic last year. KC describes him as “an incredible waterfowl and upland hunting dog!
As if that weren’t enough, Bravo’s most unique skill is a life-saving one. He is KC’s diabetic alert dog, alerting her when her blood glucose levels get too high or too low. “He first alerts me that there’s a change happening,” says KC, “then when I ask ‘What is it?’ he either waves at me for high blood glucose or he bows for low glucose. Bravo has allowed me to remain active in the things I love doing!”
Interestingly, no one intentionally trained Bravo as a diabetic alert dog. KC inadvertently trained him by pushing him away every time her blood glucose got low. Because a dog naturally wants to be with “his person,” Bravo connected the push-away with the scent a person gives off when their blood glucose is low. To “beat” the push-away, Bravo learned to offer a behavior (bowing) instead. After that, it was a relatively simple matter for KC to realize what was going on and “finish” Bravo through scent training. “If that isn’t a hero, I don’t know what is,” says KC.
She continues, “While Bravo has brought me hope and comfort, he has also brought hope to others with this disease. People see him in action and they are driven to improve their own lives with dogs like him. He helps teach the diabetic and their family how to properly handle dogs. He also alerts them if THEIR blood glucose is too high or too low. He has alerted many with diabetes in elevators, in airplanes, at sporting venues, at doctor offices and at a variety of other places.
“Bravo also helps me train many other dogs to perform this amazing and much-needed service. Bravo helps other dogs learn to perform this service through playful competition and a goal of being first to inform the diabetic of a low sugar.
“Bravo’s alerting has caused us to be disqualified in a few competitions, but I don’t care. He has proven that his number one job is to tell me when my blood sugars are off. No matter what this dog is doing or where he is at, he stops and tells me that my blood glucose is off.
“I was judging an AKC test in Oregon last year. Bravo alerted to me from over 400 yards away. While out hunting, he refused to retrieve downed birds until I fixed my blood glucose. Bravo alerted while we were receiving an award at the Soldier Hollow Sheep Dog Classic. While running an agility course, he suddenly stopped, came across in front of me, and would not let me move. My blood glucose had dropped dangerously low. Bravo was inside my house while I was outside doing yard work when my blood glucose dropped rapidly. He could not get to me, so he took his nose, raised the window a bit farther, broke out the screen, came to me, and alerted. Bravo tends to be about 15 to 30 minutes ahead of my blood glucose meter and he runs 30 to 45 minutes ahead of a continuous blood glucose monitor. These are just a few of his more memorable alerts, but there has not been a day in the last several years that he has not had to alert. He averages five alerts a day. Bravo allows me to keep doing the things that I love to do, which is play with dogs and give back to others!
“I think his story lends to the testament of what an amazing breed the Chesapeake Bay retriever truly is. This dog’s dedication and service to me is above and beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life.”
This remarkable retriever has his own facebook page and blog, which you can read at the following links: