Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON – The Phillips family has a real-world Lassie to protect the health and life of their 6-year-old son Kyzer.
Luke Phillips said the family traveled to Nashville on Friday to take possession of a 10-month-old golden-doodle, a hybrid of golden retriever and poodle.
Bailey is no ordinary pooch. She is trained to detect changes in Kyzer’s blood sugar levels. Bailey will be able to detect when Kyzer’s blood sugar grows dangerously low. As a type-1 diabetic, Kyzer could have a seizure or enter a coma with low blood sugar.
“Every time before his blood sugar falls to a certain level, Bailey puts her paw on Kyzer and come to us,” Kyzer’s mother Jessica Phillips said. “We’ll have to test his sugar or give him something to eat or drink. She’ll keep reminding us, and if we don’t do anything, she’ll wear us out.”
Kyzer, diagnosed with diabetes at age 5 must test his blood sugar levels several times a day. He said he notices a shaky feeling and has difficulty walking.
“She can smell a small amount of sugar in an Olympic-sized pool,” Jessica Phillips said.
Luke Phillips added Bailey will be especially helpful while Kyzer sleeps and may not detect symptoms of low blood sugar.
“We were in Nashville for three or four days of training, and then we will bring her home,” Luke Phillips said. “As a service dog, we will eventually take her out in public, like to the mall, restaurants and Kyzer will take her to school.”
Kyzer is in kindergarten at Benton Elementary School.
Bailey is being trained by Scott Smith of Tidewater K9 in Chesapeake, Va. He said it takes about 18 months to fully train a dog. When Bailey comes to the Philips family, she will be able to detect when Kyzer’s blood sugar drops. She will be able to tell when his blood sugar is extremely high. Smith said additional training will allow her to detect more subtle changes in his blood sugar levels.
Poodle hybrids are popular as diabetes alert dogs, Smith said. The owners of Tidewater K9 breed golden-doodles, but Bailey was one of four donated by a local breeder to the trainers. Golden-doodles are noted for their gentle dispositions. As poodle hybrids, their coats are hypo-allergenic, meaning they are less likely to cause allergies in owners and people in public places with a service dog. Tidewater typically places 10 to 20 diabetic alert dogs per year.
Bailey’s training has focused on three areas, basic obedience, scent work to detect blood sugar fluctuations and conduct in public spaces as a service dog. For scent training, Smith uses chemicals instead of live targets. He added dogs come to prefer live scents to chemicals before they are ready if people are used in training.
“When I learned a dog was $10,000 to $20,000 I thought we might could do without one because we’ve been alright when he went low before,” Jessica Phillips said. “But then I thought $10,000 is not so much when we’re talking about Kyzer. If you could buy a box for $10,000 that would keep your kid alive, it might be money well spent.”
Luke Phillips said neighbors and friends have rallied to help his family buy Bailey. An account for the Phillips family has been created for people to make donations. The family is close to reaching its goal having nearly $8,000.
“We never expected donations to happen,” Jessica Phillips said. “It’s so nice. We’re both overwhelmed and blessed.”
Jessica said Bailey will be a service dog above all, but also serve as a pet, and considers her a part of the Phillips family.
Smith said early family time would require structure and restraint, so Bailey did not neglect her mission and training in lieu of fun and games.
Kyzer’s eyes twinkled at the prospect of a dog of his own. He said he knew Bailey would keep him safe with her warnings. Of course, Kyzer has a few other plans with Bailey.
“We’re going to play fetch and she’s going to sleep in my bed,” said the angelic Kyser with a grin.
The Phillips family said donations will be accepted at CFSB in Kyser’s name.