PILOT MOUNTAIN, N.C. – Cariella Starnes, a 15-year-old Pilot Mountain resident, lives to dance. But being able to do what she loves is a bigger accomplishment than you might guess.
“It’s so hard at the competitions, because part of me is praying she’ll have a good performance. The other part of me is praying that her blood sugar will be stable until she gets off stage,” said Karen Hall, Cariella’s mother.
Cariella was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes two days before her first birthday. What makes the condition even more dangerous is Cariella also has Hypoglycemia Unawareness, so her blood sugar can fluctuate to extreme highs and lows without any warning symptoms.
That’s where her medical alert dog, Gaz, comes in.
“He’s a super hero. That’s what I describe him as. Some super heroes fly, but mine sits and stays,” said Cariella.
Gaz has been trained to smell blood sugar highs and lows up to an hour before a blood glucose meter can. That training usually starts at a young age.
“It’s amazing and it’s fun. We’re using their natural abilities, something they’re naturally good at,” said Deb Cunningham, director of Eyes Ears Nose and Paws in Chapel Hill.
Diabetic alert dogs, like Gaz, are also trained to react and alert their owners to blood sugar level changes. If the person doesn’t respond, the dog will know to fetch a medical kit, get a juice box from the refrigerator, or find another adult to help.
“They depend on their dogs in a life and death way. And the dogs also understand they have a role and responsibility in that. There’s something very special about those relationships,” said Cunningham.
That’s especially true, because diabetic alert dogs stay by their owners sides at all times.
Gaz and Cariella have been inseparable since October.
“Cariella is gaining more independence. She’s got her learners permit. She’s going to be driving soon. Having Gaz gives me a little more peace of mind knowing when I’m not around…he will be,” said Hall.