SCOTT DEPOT, W.Va. -- Next week, Rylyn Bielinski will take the most important items to first grade every day: a backpack, a lunchbox and a continuous glucose monitor. The 6-year-old diabetic is trying to raise money so that she can bring a new, furry companion to school: a "diabetic alert dog."
Rylyn found out two weeks before her fifth birthday that she has Type 1 diabetes. The energetic brunette handled the news -- followed by pokes from needles for blood work and shots -- much better than her mother, Jamie Bielinski said.
"At first I was shocked and in denial. Then I was asking what I messed up as her mom," Bielinski said. "She quickly became accustomed to the way of life and she handled it better than I did. Every time I would check her finger, I would cry and she would tell me not to cry."
Rylyn's fingers are poked 12 times a day to check her blood sugar levels. Her parents have to weigh every meal to count carbohydrates and sugars. Making sure Rylyn has enough insulin to balance with the foods she eats is a daily task, Bielinski said.
When her daughter's eyes start to go low and her skin goes pale, Bielinski knows Rylyn's blood sugar levels are off. Juice boxes and a glucose shot are always on hand.
Bielinski said it "was extremely frightening" to research and learn more about the disease.
She eventually found information about service dogs assisting diabetics, and said she knew a diabetic alert dog would be perfect for her animal-loving daughter.
After reaching out to a type 1 diabetic online community forum, Bielinski found herself on Tidewater K9 Cares' website.
The Virginia-based nonprofit group has trained companion and service dogs for more than 30 years. Two years ago, Tidewater K9 Cares started training diabetic alert dogs as a way to help others, said Scott Smith, a service dog trainer at Tidewater K9 who is training Rylyn's potential dog.
Tidewater K9 Cares has placed 14 diabetic service dogs since 2010.
"For years and years we taught dogs how to bite people for protection but these dogs save lives. These diabetic alert dogs can really benefit people," Smith said.
Diabetics have relied on diabetic alert dogs for about five years, Smith said. The dogs are becoming more popular since they are good tools to manage the disease, he said.
The dogs are trained to recognize a change in the diabetic's scent, Smith explained. When a diabetic's blood sugar is too high, his or her body releases a sweet odor, Bielinski said. The dog alerts the diabetic of a change by nudging people or placing a paw in their lap.
Rylyn's dog is being trained to use a bringsel, a small round object on the dog's collar that the dog can use to let Rylyn know that her blood sugar levels are fluctuating. Since she is so young, the diabetic alert dog will also notify her parents.