Dog preparing to walk at Georgia College graduation, must be really smart

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Editor's Note: Compiled and contributed by the Georgia College Office of Communications.

Georgia College graduating nursing major Samantha Summerville has lived with Type 1 diabetes for the last 15 years of her life. By the time she was ready to go to college, she’d grown so accustomed to all the electronic alarms warning her about blood sugar fluctuations that they didn’t wake her up anymore.

A family friend recommended a medical alert dog, and that was how Summerville met Mo, a goldendoodle trained to notice her medical needs before the technology does.

He’s also trained in basic obedience, public access and scent training. She adopted him in her freshmen year, and the two of them have become inseparable. In fact, he’s as much a part of her nursing cohort as she is; he’s been included in the class photos and will be walking with her at graduation.

Since learning first-hand the benefits of having a medical alert dog, in addition to traditional techniques for health monitoring, Summerville has become an advocate for using them in nursing environments.

“I’m a science-based major so I’m in Herty Hall a lot; in labs and things like that, which traditionally is not a great space to have a dog or an animal on the floor,” she said. “So, he ended up wearing booties and a lab coat and laying on a mat on the floor to keep him as protected as we were.”

While some pediatric floors have been hesitant to allow Mo there, Summerville said that Georgia College has always been willing to make accommodations.

Dr. Talecia Warren, Dr. Debbie Greene and Dr. Tiffany Parrish have all been staunch supporters of Summerville’s efficacy for medical alert dogs. In addition to catching issues faster than the recommended machines typically used for monitoring, Mo is much less stress-inducing. He doesn’t bark or sound an alarm when he senses low blood sugar, instead, he places a caring paw on Summerville’s leg and looks at her insistently.

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Summerville has spoken at classes and hospitals about the strategic benefits of having dogs like Mo.

“The nurses that I’m working with are asking questions,” Summerville said, “because we are evidence-based people. We believe in hard science and, of course, people are skeptical. But then they watch him alert me and catch things ahead of time, allowing me to continue to do my nursing work because my numbers aren’t low, my brain isn’t foggy, and I’m able to think clearly. I’ve been able to show nurses in an evidence-based way that he does work, and that’s been a really cool experience.”

One of their challenges is setting boundaries for those who want to greet or pet Mo while he’s on duty, which has made Summerville a much more extroverted person than she normally would have been.

“In my freshman year, I just kind of went to class and did my thing. I had my small group of people, but when you bring a dog into the mix suddenly everyone has questions,” Summerville said. “So setting those boundaries has just been about learning to speak up for myself.”

Mo has also grown during his time at Georgia College. He’s learned to adapt to many different environments and to keep calm in some of the most strenuous places.

“The nurses that I’m working with are asking questions because we are evidence-based people. We believe in hard science and, of course, people are skeptical. But then they watch him alert me and catch things ahead of time, allowing me to continue to do my nursing work because my numbers aren’t low, my brain isn’t foggy, and I’m able to think clearly. I’ve been able to show nurses in an evidence-based way that he does work, and that’s been a really cool experience.– Senior Samantha Summerville”

“I’ve taken him to Central State, and we went into the prison psychiatric facility there,” Summerville said. “During COVID, there were floor shutdowns, so we had a lot of that overflow and there were people yelling, and some could be loud and belligerent. He’s learned to layout in the hallways of these hospitals with carts going up and down, alarms going off and patients yelling and I think that attests to his training.”

“I was very adamant about having him with me to the point I was willing to turn down my dream job as a pediatric nurse,” she said.

But Summerville understands the importance of educating the independent nursing world on the advantages that medical dogs can offer. She’s hopeful that, after building a positive reputation with the hospital, that she can convince them how helpful Mo can be not only to her but to everyone around her.

Although Mo isn’t officially graduating from Georgia College, he’s been a member of Summerville’s nursing cohort since day one. The nursing class has insisted that he be a part of their nursing composite photograph that will hang in the simulation center at Navicent Baldwin, and he will be walking at graduation right beside Summerville.

She’s even gotten him a little graduation cap.

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