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Dogs look after man's health

 Valerie and Bill Setzer rescued young pit bulls Mara (with Valerie at left) and Moby (with Bill) just before they were scheduled to be euthanized. The dogs surprised the Stafford couple by alerting Bill, a Type 2 diabetic, when his blood sugar drops to potentially life-threatening levels.
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Date published: 3/1/2010


Bill Setzer lay in his bed, sweaty and disoriented.

He'd been napping. But now, his two pit bulls, Mara and Moby, wouldn't let him be.

Mara was furiously licking Setzer's face. And Moby was repeatedly crashing his 70-pound frame into the man, in a frantic attempt to wake him.

Setzer blinked. His vision was blurry. He felt lousy.

The 63-year-old Stafford man, who has Type 2 diabetes, reached for the blood sugar meter on his bedside table, pricked his finger and read the numbers on the screen: 29.

A normal blood sugar level ranges between 70 and 140.

Setzer took a glucose pill, which eventually raised his blood sugar level. But if the dogs hadn't woken him that December afternoon, Setzer believes he might not have woken up at all.

"I would've probably slipped right into a coma," he said. "These two guys saved my life."

Perhaps they were just returning the favor.


Setzer and his wife, Val, had adopted the two from local shelters in August just days before they were scheduled to be euthanized. Longtime dog lovers, the Setzers had lived with English setters, Irish setters, a Weimaraner, a German shepherd and a Lab mix over the years.

They'd never had a pit bull, but their son adopted a stray a few years back and they adored her.

So the couple decided their next two dogs would be pit bulls. Val brought Moby home after a co-worker's friend circulated his picture in an e-mail as his time at a King George shelter was running out.

Val fell in love with his handsome face, white with a brown circle around his right eye. He wasn't quite a year old.

The couple still wanted a female. They soon learned from a local rescue group, Bully Paws, that five pit bulls were slated to be put down at a shelter in Culpeper in the next 48 hours.

They looked at the dogs' pictures online, choosing Mara, a 9-month-old with a beautiful brindle coat and a tongue like a lasso. She uses it to rope anything within reach--toys, faces, the pen you're writing with.

"She's very loving and licky," said Val, 59.

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Can Do Canines, formerly Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota, has been training diabetes-assist dogs longer than most organizations. The dogs are taught to alert their owners when they detect the scent of low blood sugar.

The organization does not serve Virginia but has some interesting information on its Web site about the training process: hsdm.org.

Service Dogs of Virginia in Charlottesville is training dogs to detect low blood sugar, and the nonprofit organization serves only Virginia residents: servicedogsva .org. Bully Paws is a local pit bull rescue organization. For information about the breed or to adopt a dog, visit bullypaws.org on the Web.