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Natasha Ashton Headshot

Scents and Sensibility

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Working in the pet health business, I am reminded daily of the enduring bond between pet and person, and just how deeply both sides benefit from the union. We pet parents have always preached about pets making life better, and the scientific facts keep stacking up in our favor to prove it. Whether they're assisting the disabled, protecting our borders, acting as therapeutic aids, providing back up to law enforcement or seeing for those who cannot, companion animals do much more than simply keep us company.

Last week, I had a particularly gratifying "pets are the best" moment when, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, I found the story of Shana Eppler, one of our own Petplan policyholders, and the lifesaving impact her dog is having on her diabetic daughter, Abbie.

Gracie, the family's 3-year-old British Labrador Retriever, has been specially trained as a service dog to help manage Abbie's condition. With accuracy that outpaces even the best medical devices, Gracie detects dangerous blood sugar levels in Abbie, and alerts the family by ringing a bell. It seems simple, but for a girl with Type 1 diabetes, it can mean the difference between life and death.

I recognized the Epplers immediately; they have been part of the Petplan family since 2010. Over the years we've paid nearly $5,000 in claims for Gracie for everything from gastroenteritis, to foreign body ingestion, and even surgery for a Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) repair. But I had no idea the special role Gracie was playing in the family's life (other than - like most people's pets - resident snuggler and playmate).

For a child as young as Abbie, who may not always be tuned into the physical feelings that alert diabetics to falling blood-sugar levels, Gracie is a godsend. She is able to anticipate a drop in blood-sugar levels before or just as it begins to happen, keeping Abbie safe from losing consciousness - and the falls and other injuries that can result from passing out. Gracie is always working, even overnight while the rest of the family sleeps. Twice a night, she wakes Abbie's mom so that she can test Abbie's blood-sugar.

A fully trained diabetic-alert dog doesn't come cheap; it can cost as much as $20,000 to adopt one. Add to that the cost of veterinary care (on top of Abbie's medical bills) and it is easy to see why the Epplers chose to protect Gracie with pet insurance for those unexpected health emergencies.

Though not every dog (or cat!) can sniff out life's dangers for us, every pet deserves the best protection. The choice between your family's best friend and your budget is one you should never have to make.

I've sung the praises of pet insurance time and time again in meetings, to friends and family (who are no doubt tired of hearing about it), and in the pages of fetch! magazine, but reading about this special family, and recognizing that the business I have worked so hard to build has had an overarching and real impact on the life of a little girl, is some pretty sweet icing on an already rewarding cake.

The Epplers joked in the article that dogs are "angels with fur," and though there are times for all of us (like when you come home to a toppled trash can) when "angel" might seem like a bit of a stretch, when it's all said and done, dogs really are more than just companions or comedians - they're our guardians, too. For their unwavering service, we owe them the very best protection in kind.

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In the days since I originally drafted this post, the unimaginable tragedy in Newtown, Conn. occurred. Over the weekend, a group called Lutheran Church Charities sent a team of Golden Retrievers to the town to provide comfort and companionship to its heartbroken residents. For the adults, the dogs are a silent harbor for grief that can't yet be articulated. For the children, they are a welcome distraction from a world that's changed. Ever our faithful friends, these "comfort dogs" accept whatever burdens the grief-stricken need to lay on their shoulders, and remind us once again of the indelible bond between pets and people. Though there's very little comfort that can truly be felt after such horror, I am grateful that these dogs are there for the people of Newtown, and I hope that their presence provides even a brief respite from pain for those they serve.