Dog of the Day
By Carie Broecker
Kyle Cochran, a 26-year-old insulin pump salesman from San Diego, is best known by a national audience as a competitor on American Ninja Warrior, the heart racing obstacle course competition that airs on NBC. The warriors are extreme athletes who compete at the highest level to complete a series of obstacles and then move on to the next stage if they succeed.
Kyle competed valiantly in seasons four, five, and six. But this year, when training for season six, something had changed in his life that made it possible for him to train harder than ever.
Kyle is an insulin-dependent type 1 diabetic. Despite his diabetes, he has always enjoyed sports and strenuous outdoor activities, but because of the diabetes, he has to be careful about keeping a close eye on his blood sugar, making sure it does not spike or drop to dangerous levels. This used to mean pricking his finger and testing his blood sugar almost every hour when he was exerting himself.
Kyle’s dad heard about using a diabetes alert dog to help alert to high or low blood- sugar levels. He found a book on the Internet called How to Train your Diabetic Alert Dog and sent it to Kyle. Kyle started searching the Internet looking for a rescued dog to adopt. He knew the temperament and qualities the dog would need to succeed, such as having a gentle personality and being a quick learner, but more importantly he knew that he and the dog must have a strong connection.
He saw Leeloo’s photo on petfinder.org and was drawn to her. Leeloo is a Labrador/Whippet mix. In January 2014, she was about eleven months old. She had been fending for herself for quite some time when Cindy Wilde found her hiding in her backyard. She tried to earn her trust, but Leeloo kept running off into the woods by her house. Cindy soon realized that Leeloo was being hunted by a pack of coyotes and would take refuge in her yard when needed. Cindy finally coaxed Leeloo into the house and began fostering her with the intention of finding her a loving home.
Kyle had looked at hundreds of photos and met dozens of dogs in his search for a service dog, but when he met Leeloo, he had an immediate connection with her and knew she was the one. Even though she was skin and bones, scared, and shaking, he looked into her eyes and despite how she was presenting herself in the moment, he could see her potential. He could see who she wanted to be. He could see that she was truly sweet and loving and wanted to please someone. Once Kyle got her home, he saw signs that she had been abused at one time but chose to trust him. I believe that just as Kyle had seen something special in her eyes, she had seen something special in his as well, for Kyle Cochran is an extraordinary human being just as Leeloo is an extraordinary dog. Just as she chose to trust him, he chose to trust her, with his life.
Fast-forward eight months and Leeloo has now completed her detection-dog training. Kyle trained her himself, by following the instructions in the book his dad gave him. Kyle started by taking swabs of his saliva when his blood sugar was in a high range and separate swabs for a low range and froze the swabs. He had Leeloo smell a swab, and then he would give her a treat. This was repeated over and over. Then he taught her to smell the swab, then give an alert, and then she would get a treat. If she lies down, she is smelling low blood sugar. If she puts her paw on his knee, she is smelling high blood sugar.
The training is time-consuming, but Leeloo was a fast learner. What Kyle didn’t know she would do is alert him to changes in blood sugar while he was asleep. The first time she did that, he thought she needed to go out or just wanted affection. But she was persistent, and finally he realized she was alerting him.
This year, when Kyle trained for the 2014 season of American Ninja Warrior, Leeloo was at his side every step of the way. He now can get away with checking his blood sugar just a few times a day. He leaves the rest to Leeloo, and she lets him know when his blood sugar is high or low.
Does Leeloo know what she is doing? Does she know how important her role is in his life? Some might say she just learned how to get a treat, but Kyle believes there is more to it than that. Their connection is deep. If Kyle’s blood sugar is out of range, and he is not paying attention to her signal for some reason, she gets very persistent and antsy and let’s even say, worried.
With a dog as bright and intuitive as Leeloo, it’s hard to imagine that she isn’t aware, to some extent, that what she does for Kyle is more than a game.
In September 2014 Kyle made it to Las Vegas with the top 100 American Ninja competitors. He was disqualified on the half-pipe attack where competitors must run across a vertical half-pipe, then make a leap from the half-pipe about halfway through to reach a rope and then swing onto a narrow landing pad. Although he didn’t win the competition, Kyle will always be a warrior in my book.
In addition to being an ultimate athlete, Kyle is also a motivational speaker who inspires diabetics and other people facing life challenges to never let their obstacles stop them from doing what they love and living life to the fullest.
Kyle will be marrying Jessica, the love of his life, in December this year. We wish Kyle, Jessica, and Leeloo a long and happy life together.