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Watch the Meeting of a Boy and His Service Dog

A dog's acute sense of smell will help a boy manage his diabetes.

A. J. Schalk and Alpha.  Video by Susan Larson.
A. J. Schalk and Alpha. Video by Susan Larson.
A.J. Schalk pricks his finger five to 10 times a day.  The 13-year-old also wears an insulin pump.  A.J. has Type 1 diabetes, and monitoring his blood glucose (sugar) level is a life and death responsibility.  Now he has a helper.

Alpha is a black lab trained by Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers (SDWR) to forewarn A.J. when his blood glucose level begins to rise or fall.

"A dog's sense of smell is so acute, Alpha is able to alert A.J. 20 to 40 minutes ahead of when he would notice the need to test his blood," said Kristin Schalk, A.J.'s mom.

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers has developed a proprietary program for training dogs to recognize fluctuations in blood sugar levels.  The dogs alert by giving a paw, a nudge or turning in a circle, signaling one way for high blood sugar and one way for low.  They are also trained to alert others when help is needed and to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency.

"Alpha’s alert means A.J. can correct the problem in advance and prevent the drop or the high," Kristin said.  This provides a huge reduction in risks of side effects.

Diabetes can lead to complications including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease (Neuropathy), amputation and even death, according to the American Diabetes Association


Alpha provides A.J. another tool to manage his diabetes and gives him increased independence.

A.J. and his family have been raising money while waiting for a service dog.  It usually takes up to nine months to receive a dog – which would have been the summer of 2014 for A.J.  – but a call came just before Christmas with the news of Alpha’s arrival.

On the cold morning of Jan. 2, family and friends waited outside the Schalk home with “Welcome Alpha” posters.

Phil Farris. a trainer with SDWR, arrived with the five-month-old puppy, ready to spend the next four days teaching A.J. and Alpha how to work together.  There will be follow-up trainings quarterly for the next two years.  When Alpha is two-years-old, he will go everywhere with A.J.  – even to school.

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers is a nonprofit based in Madison, Va.  The organization provides alert dogs for diabetes, autism and seizures. Their motto is, “Until there's a cure... there's a dog.”

SDWR also assists with fundraising for all associated costs.  A.J. has his own campaign page on the group’s website.

The next scheduled fundraiser for A.J. and Alpha is from 5 – 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at Chick-fil-A in Central Park, 1698 Carl D Silver Pkwy., Fredericksburg.  The restaurant will donate 10 percent of sales.

A.J. chose the name for his service dog.  “Alpha is the beginning and this dog is the beginning of better numbers for me,” he said.

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