Harmony couple explains life with service dog to care center residents
Thursday, August 07, 2014 11:12 AM
Lu and Sue Ommen of Harmony and Gilbert the service dog, were recent guests of Gundersen Harmony Care Center.
Lu Ommen of Harmony introduces his service dog, Gilbert, to residents of the Gundersen Harmony Care Center during a special program. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Gilbert is Lu’s companion and service dog and knows he is working when he is wearing his service vest.
Included inside this service vest is a packet filled with an ordinary chocolate candy bar and a tube of glucose. It is lightweight to make it easy for Gilbert to carry, but monumental in terms of its ability to save a life.
Lu, who has been challenged with diabetes for the past 53 years was provided with a canine companion in October of 2013.
Sue shared that their quest for help began two years ago and through Ken Gundersen, a fellow Harmony Lions Club Member, they were informed the Lions Club in the Midwest helps provide canine dogs. She explained there are five different areas of challenges that can be matched with a trained canine, ranging from general specific needs to those challenged with diabetes, visual impairments, hearing impairments or autism.
“Gilbert is an intelligent diabetic assistant dog, who is trained to alert Lu when his blood sugar level is either too low or too high,” Sue said.
At that very moment the care center residents got to see Gilbert in action as he alerted Lu to check his blood sugar by lifting his paw and putting his foot on Lu’s knee until he responded.
When Lu did check his monitor, it was discovered that his blood sugar was indeed low.
“Gilbert has a very acute sense of smell,” Sue added.
When Lu was able to bring his blood sugar up by ingesting a few chocolate candies, Sue asked Gilbert to take a bow, which he obediently did, and was then rewarded with a few dog treats.
“Gilbert was trained for 18 months by a man from the “CanDoCanine Organization,” Lu said.
Like any adoption, the Ommen family was evaluated and it was decided that Lu and Sue needed an active dog that could give and receive mutual support and care for their active and extended family, including a daughter, son-in-law, a 10-year-old granddaughter and two lively small grandchildren.
Sue said when their grandson is sitting in his high chair it can be a full-time job for Gilbert as he watches for the toys to drop from the high chair and repeatedly picks them up, and retrieves them.
Gilbert, who will soon turn 3, began his training as a puppy.
“That’s all he’s ever known,” Lu said.
Lu went on to explain that a lot of the service dogs are trained in the Faribault Prison System. They train the dogs by placing a cloth with a low blood sugar scent near the dog’s nose. Gilbert now responds to 32 commands, starting out his morning by bringing Lu his socks and shoes. He can turn right or left, give a high five or shake with a paw when commanded to do so.
Lu began his training with Gilbert by being the primary handler for one month, so they could bond.
Sue laughed and said, “It really took just a day!”
Gilbert’s trainer worked with Lu from Rochester for the length of the training.
“Gilbert, who recently graduated from CanDoCanines program in New Hope, Minn., had to pass some skills to earn his diploma,” Lu said. “He has to be able to get a juice box, bring me the phone and be able to act correctly in both a grocery store and a restaurant setting, understanding the command, ‘down under,’ which literally means to go down under the table while the family is dining.”
Lu continued that Gilbert has a gentle nature and comes from a good black lab lineage. His father was a 90-pound pedigreed show dog and his mother was a British Lab.
Gilbert, who weighs in at 58 pounds, can be found 99 percent of the time at Lu’s side.
Gilbert is also an ambassador for the CanDo Canine Organization in southeastern Minnesota and has been introduced at various Lions Club zone meetings.
After one year, this October, Lu and Sue Ommen can apply to adopt him.
Lu concluded that Gilbert is his close companion and a family’s best friend.