A diabetes guardian angel, no technology could replace, Milo & Remi
Milo was five years old when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. His mother, Kirstin Walsh Price, was still learning about managing the disease when she was approached by a woman in the endocrinologist’s office. “This woman, Diane, came in and said, ‘I just want to give you a card for Early Alert Canines. We have a dog.’ She told me her story, how her son was diagnosed and then they got the dog. And the dog actually detected it on the second kid later on down the road.”
Kirstin’s family had already been researching the disease after Milo’s diagnosis, so she was familiar with the concept of dogs being able to detect blood sugar highs and lows. Because Milo had just been diagnosed, EAC required them to wait a year before putting in an application. A year and a half after that, they were paired with then-4-year-old Remi. Because of Milo’s age, Kirstin was the one who went through training with the dog.
“The whole process was amazing,” Kirstin says. “The support system that Early Alert offers was worth its weight in gold. They really do everything they can to match the dogs up with the right family.” Like many people, Kirstin was unsure at first that Remi would be the right dog for their family. She thought Remi was too passive and didn’t feel a connection with her. She shared those feelings with the trainers. When she and the other families arrived to be partnered with their dogs, the trainers told them: “We selected these dogs for you based on your family dynamic. We took into consideration everything and you need to trust us.” Then they called Kirstin up and paired her with Remi.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I’m trusting the system,’” she says. Remi went home with her in July and in January they drove from their home in Newport Beach, California, to the graduation ceremony in the Bay Area. “It was so moving and so amazing to see these families, these adults and kids with their dog, and the life-changing moments that have happened for these people at multiple levels.”
Remi had an unusual background. She had previously been partnered with another person for a year, but the woman decided she wasn’t suited to living with a service dog, so Remi came back to EAC to be placed in a new situation. “It was a silver lining because she was pretty well-versed in her training,” Kirstin says.
“She’s perfect. Milo has got a gazillion tons of energy and Remi is super-mellow and patient with him.” Milo, now 11 and a half years old, is on his school’s swim team, and Remi and Kirstin go to practice and meets with him. Remi even alerts when Milo is in the pool. She alerts Kirstin, who rewards her, and almost simultaneously, Milo climbs out of the pool saying, “I feel low.” It’s the same at soccer and flag football games.
The COVID pandemic has brought boy and dog closer, too. Previously, Remi would have had a break during the day while Milo was at school. But now they’re together 24/7. Remi is always on the job, constantly aware of where Milo is and what he’s doing.
He’s more stable now that he’s older but Remi adjusts quickly and accurately to new normals such as blood sugar levels starting to run a little higher or lower than previously.
As Milo has matured, his partnership with Remi has blossomed as well. She not only gives him a sense of security, she has also helped him to develop independence. Because Milo was diagnosed at such an early age and has had his parents and Remi to care for and guide him through living with the disease, he has grown up with an acceptance of it that has shaped how he is able to cope with and respond to it.
“It doesn’t dominate who he is. It’s just part of who he is,” Kirstin says. “And I think that Remi helped to lead the path in that because if we didn’t have her, there could have been a lot more focus on the diabetes. The stress could have come out differently.”
As Milo heads into middle school, Kirstin and her husband Jason are gradually giving him more responsibility for managing his diabetes. They trust Milo and his judgment, but it helps that they know Remi is on the job, too. Because of her consistently reliable alerts, Remi has become something of an early warning system for Milo and his parents. She often alerts soon after they have checked Milo in the evenings. When they recheck him, they find that his blood sugar levels have dropped significantly, just in that brief time.
“She’s the safety net,” Kirstin says. “We never, ever second guess her judgment because there’s a reason for it. She has definitely saved his life. She is more than a dog. She is our guardian angel. No technology could replace her."