Wherever Andrew Ziegler goes, Luna will be two steps behind while her nose stays two steps ahead.
“When I’m out with her, I’m never alone,” Ziegler said. “It’s like a missing part of me has been filled. I couldn’t imagine life without her.”
The 20-month-old trained diabetes alert service black labrador retriever from Pieces of the Universe follows the 16-year-old Camas High School sophomore to his classes and band practices. She also keeps a cautious eye on his blood sugar level while he sleeps.
Ziegler was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 2 years old and has been on an insulin pump since he was 5. Constantly living in fear for her son’s life, Sharon would wake him up in the middle of the night to check his blood sugar. Now she can rest comfortably knowing that Luna is always on guard.
“For me as a mom, this has been a huge gift,” Sharon said. “I pretty much can trust Luna to come and get me. It’s the night time that can be the most dangerous.”
She added that service dogs are not only used by people with diabetes, but also those with autism, epilepsy and even cancer.
“Search out support from other families dealing with chronic illnesses, and think of options like Luna,” Sharon said. “When Andrew was diagnosed with this 14 years ago, we couldn’t imagine having such a gift.”
Luna has been going to school with Andrew since Jan. 13. CHS Principal Steve Marshall sent a letter to parents a week before Luna’s first day on campus.
“Luna has appeared to have adjusted to CHS and CHS has adjusted to Luna,” Marshall said. “I credit that smooth transition to nurse Joan Haugaard, who did a lot of research on how to successfully prepare for and accommodate service animals in school settings as well as to Andrew, who has shown a lot of responsibility in caring for Luna throughout the day.
“Of course, Luna deserves some credit, too,” he added. “She has been a neutral presence in the instructional environment. But she has been a positive addition to our campus; she is well-behaved in the halls and lunchroom and she is popular with students.”
Luna might get caught sleeping in Andrew’s classes, but her nose never stops working. She has been trained to detect low and high blood sugars since she was 6 weeks old.
“She can smell the metabolic change in my blood,” Andrew said. “If it gets too low or too high, she alerts me.”
Luna can also pick up on changes in Andrew’s behavior. She’ll tug on his leg and keep on him until his blood sugar gets back to normal.
The Zieglers continue to train Luna every day. Sharon demonstrates by placing samples of low or high sugar into in three separate boxes. Luna finds the one with high blood sugar, rings a bell with her paw and gets a treat.
If Andrew’s blood sugar is low, he squeezes a juice box, pops in a glucose tablet or munches on an energy bar. If it’s too high, he needs more insulin.
“I have to watch how much sugar I eat. It’s added difficulty, but has just become a regular part of my life,” Andy said. “Some people live their life around diabetes. I want to live and have diabetes just be a part of my life.”
Andrew remains active. He loves to hike, camp and play tennis. He is also member of the drumline on the CHS marching band.
This is why the Zieglers are thankful for Luna. They heard about service dogs while living in Scotland. When they moved to Camas in August, they researched and found Pieces of the Universe in Gaston, Ore.
Andy applied for a dog in November. Luna became available 10 days later, before the family could afford the $15,000 required for her. Convinced this was a gift from God, Sharon and Geordie agreed to pay monthly installments to keep Luna.
To help offset the cost, the Zieglers are organizing fundraisers in coordination with nearby businesses. So far, the family has raised $2,378 of its $15,000 goal.
Andrew and Luna met for the first time Nov. 21 at a restaurant south of Portland. The first thing she did was alert her new owner that he had high blood sugar.
“She was underneath the table. I kneeled by her and she immediately altered me,” Andrew said. “I couldn’t believe she already knew what to do. She catches me way before I can feel it.”
At that very moment, Sharon knew she had made the right decision for her son.
“I have a new level of hope for Andrew and his future knowing Luna will never leave his side,” Sharon said. “She’s always working, but at home she’s just a part of the family.”