Diabetic Alert Dogs and the College Experience

Ashly Romero, University Of Arkansas PhD Student, 2022

By now, most everyone is aware of the advantages of diabetic alert dogs (DAD). Pre-symptomatic alerts on high and low blood sugars alleviate worry about the rollercoaster ride that is blood glucose levels and nighttime lows are less of a concern. I don’t need to tell you about the security or relief I feel with my DAD in hand, but there is a lot more to life with a DAD than the benefits of easier blood sugar management. You surely know why you might want one, but what is the everyday reality of owning a DAD? What is it actually like to have a large breed of dog with you every minute of every day?


My college journey took me nine hours from my hometown of Redding, CA down to California State University, Long Beach. My closest family was two hours away, and we really weren’t even close enough for them to know much about diabetes management or emergencies. So in preparation for this major transition, I made the decision to get a diabetic alert dog. I got Wrigley (my DAD) just before my junior year of high school, fully aware that I would need some time to get used to living with a DAD before moving away for school. Through trial and error and a close relationship with Wrigley’s trainer, I mastered daily life with a DAD and felt ready to safely enter the collegiate environment as a type 1 diabetic (T1D).

My freshman year of college, I lived in the dorms with a roommate. Luckily, she was a nursing major, so she had some basic knowledge about type 1 diabetes. I bookmarked some parts of the Pink Panther book about understanding diabetes for her (Understanding Diabetes by H. Peter Chase, 10/10 recommend for people that don’t know much about T1D) and gave her an up close and personal look at the ins and outs of T1D. Thank goodness, she was also fond of dogs. The bigger struggle was explaining that Wrigley isn’t just a pet and that she had clear boundaries on what was and wasn’t allowed.


Joining a sorority was a bit of an obstacle for us. Recruitment is essentially full days of standing really close to a lot of people and talking nonstop. It was hot, and Wrigley wanted to keep laying down. People tripped over her, stepped on her, and felt terrible for doing so each time. I eventually decided to explain that I needed a bit more space and often asked to stand or sit in a corner slightly removed from everyone else so Wrigley wouldn’t be trampled.

Class was never an issue. People often asked about Wrigley, but mostly everyone left her alone and paid more attention to the professor. Our college didn’t have a football team, but basketball games were a lot of fun. The packed student section wasn’t a great option for us (lots of feet and a below eye-level dog), but we were usually able to find seating with more space. Parties were a little more challenging. I often opted not to take Wrigley to parties, which is ironic because that is probably the place I needed her most. College parties and bars are not safe environments for dogs, even service dogs. There’s broken glass, many drunk people who aren’t acting in the dog’s best interest, and a lot of loud music. Wrigley spent some nights in her kennel while I carefully chose the friends I went out with to make sure I would be safe. Strangely enough, dating wasn’t much of an issue. Although to be fair, I met my boyfriend freshman year and we dated the rest of college. My philosophy to dating with a diabetic alert dog is that if people can’t see past the dog, then they probably aren’t worth being with anyway. Most of the people I became close with throughout my time with a diabetic alert dog often said, “Oh, I forgot she was even here!” And those were always the best people because they cared about me more than they cared about my dog.


Each person will have a different experience, but it’s important to thoroughly research and weigh the advantages and challenges of life with a DAD before making the decision to get one. In all, having a DAD isn’t an easy and carefree life. You’re constantly picking up poop, carrying water bowls, and having to always consider this other life that you are responsible for. But knowing the challenges, I wouldn’t give her up for the world. Wrigley is as much a part of me now as my right hand. We navigated the obstacles of college life together. We’ve formed an incredible bond, and I feel safer with her around.


A PhD student studying biological anthropology, Ashly was diagnosed with T1D at four years old. She has used an insulin pump since age six. T1D has never been about limitations for her, but rather the opportunity to be a part of an enthusiastic and diverse community of people like her. In undergrad, Ashly was part of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and did independent research in both the Anthropology and Biology Departments on campus. Follow her on Twitter @PrimateAndProud