Loma’s Helping Paws

Emily Bertsch and her service dog Rosie. Photo credit to Kelly Bertsch.

Throughout history, evidence shows proof of canines providing aid to humans in different parts of the world, all the way from Europe to China. The concept of service animals that is seen today dates back to the 1900s. According to NewsLife, guide dogs became popular after WWI when men would come home blinded from gas and were in need of direction.

However, unlike then, service animals now assist more than just the blind and wounded. They can also assist with both physical and mental disorders such as autism, diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

Service animals perform a wide range of duties depending on their human’s needs. Common duties include alerting for help, detecting changes in blood sugar, detecting seizures, helping with mobility assistance and grounding from anxiety/panic attacks. These animals are trained extensively to use their senses to pick up any negative signs triggering from inside the body. By picking up on those early signs, service animals help prevent medical emergencies from taking place. 

Emily Bertsch, a first-year nursing major at Point Loma Nazarene University, shared her experience navigating diabetes with her service dog, Rosie. 

“Rosie is a medical alert service dog, she alerts me to my blood sugar,” said Bertsch. “I’m type one diabetic, she tells me when my blood sugar is high or low.” 

Having Rosie by her side has helped Bertsch keep her numbers in range by letting her know when something is wrong. 

“I’ve seen the biggest change in my A1C (glycated hemoglobin) over the years,” said Bertsch. “It was definitely kind of high before I got her, after that, it’s been pretty in range.”

Bertsch was in seventh grade when she attended a presentation on service dogs and decided to fill out an application. The non-profit organization Early Alert Canines then decided she was a good candidate and the process began. After completing a longer application, they let Bertsch know that she was in line for a dog. 

“Because I was a teenager, they had me do a teen camp where I went up to a training facility and spent the week with a different service dog that wasn’t Rosie,” said Bertsch

The camp was to ensure  Bertsch could handle life with a service dog. After that week, the organization waited to find the right pup for her. 

Rosie came home early from the organization’s training due to COVID-19 pandemic and continued her alerting training with her new family.

“They want you to have an 80% accuracy, so she was alerting to my blood sugar correctly 80% of the time,”  said Bertsch. 

After COVID-19 passed, they went back up to finish Rosie’s public access training. 

“It’s a lengthy process, but it’s definitely worth it at the end of the day,” said Bertsch.

At PLNU, the Educational Access Center (EAC) is there to help those who have service animals. 

“The EAC is a place where students, faculty and staff can come to get resources about accommodating students with disabilities,” and “create a culture at the university that honors God’s individual gifts for each person with or without a disability,” said Pamela Harris, associate dean of the EAC.

When it comes to working canines, there are two types allowed on campus: emotional support and service. 

Emotional support animals are approved to be in the students living space, but not in other places around campus. The protocol for service dogs differs.

“Service dogs are dogs who have been trained for a specific task to help this person with the disability and are allowed everywhere,” said Harris.

Unlike emotional support animals, service animals do not have to be registered with the EAC if the student can take care of themselves. 

“Although students don’t technically have to register with our office, we encourage them to so we can help advocate on their behalf,” said Manager of Student Life Sabrina Mathisen. 

Each student has their own rules when it comes to their service dogs, Bertsch asks that others refrain from distracting Rosie while she is working. 

“When she has her vest on, she is very focused. I ask people not to pet her and not to call out to her too much,” said Bertsch.