• Lauren Burke

Ricki is a Special Dog

Ricki is a very special dog. Obviously I think she is, because she is mine, but I am not the only one!


(Ricki is my diabetes alert dog, a full access service dog trained to be an outstandingly well behaved dog while alerting me on my blood sugar levels as much as 30 minutes before our current technology can. She was trained by Early Alert Canines in Concord, CA.)


Early Alert Canines doesn’t have a kennel facility. They rely on foster families during the training process to home the dogs. They start with local fosters that can bring the dogs in daily for training, and then the dogs move to transitional fosters, where they can live with different diabetics to get really good at alerting on blood sugar levels. Then, after they are all done with training, the dogs get to go with other fosters in a holding pattern while waiting for placement.


Ricki and I both got into the placement cycle at the wrong time. I was accepted very shortly after one class ended, and Ricki started her training about a month before that class had begun. Her training wasn’t even halfway done when the class started, so we both had to wait almost a year to be placed together.


During that year, Ricki stayed with many fosters. She stayed with Carol, the executive director of EAC. She stayed with Erica, the trainer at EAC, who is also a T1D. She stayed with Beth, the program coordinator at EAC, another T1D, who's husband and daughter are also T1s. She stayed with Chip and Kenni, a wonderful couple that lives close to the center. They have fostered almost every dog that’s come through EAC! She stayed with Summer, a foster who lives more than 100 miles away from the center, for more than three months while waiting to be placed with me. She stayed with a few others, too, but I haven’t met them all.


Each foster person I've met that’s had Ricki has told me they would have kept her if they’d been given the chance. Kenni and Chip said Ricki ranks among the top five dogs they would keep, out of more than 50 dogs they’ve fostered! Summer hasn’t fostered too many of EAC’s dogs, but we met at orientation and told me she’d keep Ricki in a heartbeat. Even Carol, who claims she’d never had a yellow lab, has told me she would keep my little Roo.

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Ricki has a way of charming everyone. She’s cuddly and sweet; she has deep, loving eyes. But she is also independent, and very stubborn. She tolerates my BS, but lets me know she isn’t enjoying herself. On a recent adventure, we ended up at the Anaheim Garden Walk before the shops opened for the day. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some great shots of Ricki in vest for EAC’s website, social media, and upcoming end of year campaign! I posed my dog on the fountain, in front of art pieces, on art pieces, everywhere! But her face… Oh, my, can you see her rolling her eyes. Had you been there, you would have heard her audible sighs and moans, as if saying, “Seriously?! MORE PHOTOS?! Woman, you have enough!” As I was processing those photos, I was laughing out loud so much the caregiver came back to my little office to ask if I was ok. I shared with her some of the photos of my sassy dog, and she laughed too. So I started an album on Facebook called Mildly Unamused, the name a spinoff from Reddit’s Mildly Amusing thread. So many of my friends and family commented, and I’ve started to add photos from other times she’d given me dirty looks.



But she isn’t always a sassy booger! She’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever known. She always wants to be touching me. She brings me her toys when I’m sad, because she knows I always smile and laugh when she squeaks her toys. She also loves hugs, so if you sit on the floor, she sometimes tries to put her arms on your shoulders while standing in your lap! It’s the sweetest thing, but having a 60 pound dog standing on your shoulders isn’t always easy. Half the time she knocks me down, just to lick my face and lay on top of me!


Sometimes, first thing in the morning, I invite her into my bed, and she lays on top of me and purrs, as happy as can be. I’ve only ever known one other dog to purr, but her purr was more of a grunt or snort… Ricki’s purr is less grunt-like, so I call it her schnorful (sha-nor-ful). It’s her happy noise, not to be mistaken for a growl, though it almost could be. It’s an odd sound, and rather hard to describe. But a happy sound nonetheless.

When we are out in public and she is under the table or chair, she has her head, back, or at least her paw on my foot or against my leg. It’s a sweet reminder that she’s there. If her head is on your foot, you are fine, but as soon as that head is looking your direction, you better tell me to check my blood sugar. Eye contact is her lowest-tier alert— it’s the gentle nudge before she starts pawing!


Today I was at one of my favorite little restaurants. I’m redoing their website, so I was there for more than four hours, taking pictures, editing the menu, figuring out how the back end of GrubHub works, and such. Ricki and I sat at a tiny two person table, the kind with one post in the middle and an X foot, which is very inconvenient for service dogs. At first she sat next to my chair and against the wall. But after a while she seemed uncomfortable, so I moved the chair and sat at the other side of the table. She was fine for a while, but my blood sugar was high, and she got up to alert me. Instead of going back and laying down where she had been, she laid in the middle of the walkway so she could be closer to me. I scooted her as much out of the way as I could, thankful that it was late in the day and close to closing time, so the restaurant was mostly empty. But that just wouldn’t do! She had to have her head on me…



At home, Ricki greets everyone with such excitement and happiness. Even when new people come to the door, she acts like it’s her long-lost best friend, bringing them a toy to show off what a good girl she is. Very few people get that she doesn’t want you to take the toy, she just wants to hold it while you love her. People are so touched when she brings them a toy and her whole body wags, it makes everyone feel so special. If humans greeted each other the way well loved dogs greet humans, the world would be a better place. Everyone thinks they are her favorite, and she responds to each as if they were. The more excited you are to see her, the more excited she is to see you.

Ricki is a truly incredible dog, and I’m so lucky to have her.

© 2020 Lauren Burke

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