Diabetes

True Life: I Have a Diabetic Alert Dog (Part 1)

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Meet Matt Tarro! Also known as @the__drop. Matt's a super awesome superhuman. He also has type 1 diabetes and a DAD (Diabetic Alert Dog), Forest, that sniffs out his lows. Here's Part 1 in Matt's story of life with his best friend & DAD, Forest.  

Hi! My name is Matt Tarro, I'm 32 years old and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002.

I was using the One Drop app long before I got one of the meters, but the connection the technology helps you make has improved my control in a lot of ways.

Logging food into the app was a major step for me to start reading everything I consumed! I'm thankful for the One Drop team, as I worked for a small app myself.

The 2002 Diagnosis

I promise we'll get to my best friend and Diabetic Alert Dog, Forest, but I want you to better understand why I entered into a working relationship with a highly-trained, intelligent animal.

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Flash-back to my sophomore year at Bishop Hendricken High School, in Warwick, Rhode Island. My parents had gone to a medical conference in Las Vegas and when they returned home, I had lost 15lbs in the short week they were away.

I told them about my constant thirst and sleeping spells in school - and they knew immediately what was happening to my adolescent body.

I was tested, admitted, and diagnosed within hours the next morning.

To be precise, my chronic illness diagnosis was just days before Thanksgiving and the start of another busy holiday season. Since my father and brother were doctors, and my mother a nurse at the hospital I was being treated at, I was let go early.

The idea was that I'd have my parents and family to help with my new lifestyle. The help provided over the next few years laid my character groundwork: they showed me how to be a better person and live a happy, giving life.

Diabetes was treated differently when my father was on the medical staff in the '70s. They counted sugars -- not carbs -- and the process to test your blood sugar levels and administer insulin was painstaking.

I ended up teaching him a lot of developments that he didn't know in the last few years of his life, and it was very special.

I am truly lucky to have everything in this life, even my type 1 diagnosis. It's helped me look at things differently and has pushed me to work harder for myself and those around me.

The Now

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It's now 16 years later. My work experience and life with diabetes have brought me a lot of places, shown me a lot of things, and helped me overcome challenges I never imagined facing.

One challenge I overcame was my dependence on others input and validation. I was never totally sure if what I was doing was correct, so the mere thought of someone else validating what I was doing made me more confident.

Work, personal relationships, and my social life thrived when my confidence grew.

One aspect of my life, however, was missing a significant amount of effort and validation: how I managed my type 1 diabetes.

I stopped smoking cigarettes, stopped consuming alcohol, and significantly cut back on the amount of red meat that I ate in 2015 just before moving to happiness and constant sunshine.

My growth as an adult has been more plentiful in California than it was anywhere else.

I have been more active, happier, and hyper-focused on learning about my disease and how it REALLY affected my day-to-day life.

I physically felt better, but mentally, I was still having a lot of issues working through the things I'd experienced. The loss of my mother in 2009 and my ailing father put things into perspective about how I wanted to better my immediate situation.

As hard as I was working, my type 1 diabetes was taking a beating as it was mismanaged, unkempt, and constantly stressed.

That changed when I started working with a dog.

I know, that may seem ridiculous. But my dog saved my life.

Life With Forest

I get a lot of questions about what type of dog makes for a good working partner, and I typically give the same answer.

It's whatever breed YOU feel most comfortable working with.

I follow up with the formal answer as well, since it's very important to pick from the Sporting group.

As described by the American Kennel Club:

"Naturally active and alert, Sporting dogs make likable, well-rounded companions. First developed to work closely with hunters to locate and/or retrieve quarry. There are four basic types of Sporting dogs; spaniels, pointers, retrievers and setters."

These dogs have a lot of energy and motivation to make you happy. Constantly.

They live for it, it's what generations of their ancestors have done and the nose makes for an excellent tool to fight against Hypo-unawareness.

Forest

Forest is a three and a half-year-old Weimaraner and he's my best friend.

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Every day we work on blood sugar management together, finding happiness in the small things, and loving life. Oh yeah, and eating peanut butter.

It started when I was paired with him in early 2016 after my initial decision to work with a dog.

I wanted to work with one who had a personality, stamina, and would match my enthusiasm for life. Given I was an active adult male, I also wanted a dog I'd also be able to go on long camping journeys with, ride my bike with, and feel comfortable working with.

Once I made the decision that this is what I wanted to do, a dedicated team at Diabetic Alert Dogs of America went on a literal hunt to find my new partner, one that normally takes 2-3 weeks.

Forest took a bit longer to find because Weimaraners are NOT your typical working dog breed. They pair you and start training the young pup immediately and the dog is anywhere between 6-8 months old when it starts training.

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Companies operate differently. While some are free, others, like the service I used, do cost money. You're not buying a pet, you're starting a team with an intelligent animal.

The fee I paid was for them to find and train a dog to the best of their ability and have him delivered to me, as I worked in Venice, California.

There are options for you to train your own dog or bring a dog to them and train. But the tests administered in a litter room will tell a good trainer what they need to know. Dog's either have the ability to work - or they don't.

My position at Snap Inc. was stable and I was getting ready to tell my team about my new partner. I was INCREDIBLY nervous. I had to tell them that this was happening and the dog would be with me very soon.

Legally, they didn't have much of an option to say no. I just knew how I would need to handle myself and not be in the way while not over-stepping my boundaries. All while working and training with my new young dog.

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The thing about having a dog with you 24/7 is ..... well... you now have 6 legs! You'll always stand out and have people looking at you, always! Smile and go on about your business.

Be mindful of your partner and the normal requirements to care for a dog.

The more you develop a friendship, the stronger your work ethic becomes. The more work you put in, the greater your success.

For me, every day is bring my dog to work day. It's a joy working with Forest. 

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Read on to Part 2 here

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Mary Elizabeth Adams
Jun 22, 2019

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