February 9, 2017 – Stories about puppies and little girls are always heartwarming, this one especially so.
Honig Vineyard and Winery in the Napa Valley’s Rutherford has a new employee with four legs and a wagging tail. Honey, a golden lab, is being trained for two important tasks. She will sniff out pests in the vineyard but more importantly, she will be able to detect low blood sugar in nine-year-old Sophia Honig who has Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes means the pancreas produces little to no insulin, and the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. If blood sugar drops too low, it can lead to seizures, or brain damage, and the results can be life threatening. Little Sophia wears an insulin pump, and continuous glucose monitor but when Honey is trained, she will be able to alert Sophia and her parents 15 minutes sooner than the glucose monitor.
Carleigh Long (dog trainer), Honey and Sophia Honig walking in vineyard
Honey’s second responsibility will be as a “sniffer” dog detecting the female mealybug pheromone. Early detection of the bug allows the grower to treat or remove a vine or two, alleviating any broad use of pesticides. Back in 2005, Michael Honig, President and CEO of the winery and Sophia’s father, worked with the Assistance Dog Institute (now known as Bergin University) in Santa Rosa, to help train golden retrievers as mealybug sniffers. The program was very successful. Mealybug is not prevalent in the Napa Valley and does not affect Honig’s vineyards so having Honey on duty will keep it that way.
Carleigh Long, the dog’s trainer says it is the first time she has ever trained a dog for dual purposes. “Labs are amazing dogs,” says Carleigh. “They have incredible sensory abilities, and are such good learners. Honey will be able to learn more than 60 daily commands that will allow her to interact with the family and help to keep Sophia safe. Once she’s got that down, we’ll move her into the vineyard to train her there.”