Service dog helps Monarch Academy teacher monitor her diabetes

As Monarch Academy music teacher Kenzie Turk talked about the trials of living with Type 1 diabetes, her service dog, Bear, lay nearby, drifting in and out of a deep sleep.

Dozing in class isn't usually acceptable at the public charter school in Glen Burnie, but the 8-month-old black Labrador retriever had endured a busy night, waking Turk more than two dozen times to alert her that complications from the chronic disease had flared again, prompting her to take action before something went tragically wrong.


Bear has become an around-the-clock lifesaver for Turk and a fixture at Monarch. The canine helps Turk manage diabetes by monitoring her blood-sugar level through smell. When he senses that the level has become too high or low, Bear paws or kisses Turk, alerting her to take action. Bear — aptly named, because Turk's husband is a die-hard Chicago Bears fan — has helped the teacher continue her passion for music without interruption.

"He is my guardian angel," said Turk, 27, a teacher with four years' experience who is in her first year at Monarch. She said she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11, and her condition is deemed "brittle," meaning her blood-sugar levels are prone to large and sometimes uncontrollable swings. She said she has been comatose, and has had seizures and blackouts.


She acquired Bear from a Virginia-based nonprofit called Warren Retrievers after her symptoms grew more frequent and severe. Bear follows her everywhere to ensure her blood-sugar level remains within a safe range. Turk suffers from hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which abnormal blood-sugar levels are scarcely recognizable and can drop during sleep. Bear is trained to retrieve her blood glucose meter and can awaken her husband when Turk is unresponsive.

Turk said he's even being trained to wear an electronic device with an emergency 911 alert, which he'd be able to activate if Turk is unresponsive and no one can be reached.

"He already is a lifesaver, and it's amazing to see what he's going to be able to do when he is at his full potential," said Turk. She said that at least twice a day, Bear alerts her that something is awry.

"He has prevented serious situations, such as when my pump has malfunctioned and I didn't know," Turk said.

Bear is not the only service dog at work in schools run by the Baltimore-based Children's Guild, which operates Monarch Academy and other facilities in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Blake Kaiser-Mohondro, director of clinical and related services for special-needs students, has trained therapy dogs to assist children in developing reading and social skills, officials said. Kaiser-Mohondro currently brings a 6-year-old American cocker spaniel, Gabby, to Children's Guild classes. Gabby listens to students read aloud, creating a relaxed learning environment. In addition, another Children's Guild teacher, speech therapist Katherine Miles, brings her Shetland sheepdog, Chauncey, to school to provide similar support, officials said.

Bear has become popular with students at Monarch, most of whom aren't accustomed to having a dog sit in on their classes.

"It's cool to see how he's trained," said Kylie McGinniss, 10. "I always wonder how long it takes, and what he does to get prepared for it."

"Now we can know that Miss Kenzie has someone to look out for her instead of looking out for herself," said Zora Craft, 10. "Sometimes it can get a little distracting, but most times it cheers me up because he does funny things, and he usually brightens my day because he's so cute."

Principal Maurine Larkin said the school took precautions to ensure having a canine in class wouldn't be a problem. She said before Bear arrived, the school sent emails to parents about him to make certain no students had animal allergies or fears.

She said Turk prepared students to "go about their business" while Bear is assisting her.

"During the school day when he's working, we leave him alone," Larkin said. "He does his work, we do our work."


Turk said that Bear often sleeps in class, but when he needs to alert her to a problem, he's an action hero.

"I had a class and he came toward me and I was teaching, and I didn't realize he had gotten up. He alerted me and I didn't realize it, because I was still trying to teach the student. He walked between the student and I and sat in front of us so I couldn't miss him."

Bear is more active at home, especially on nights when her blood-sugar level fluctuates. Both of them can lose sleep, but Turk said she rarely misses school because of it.

"No, why would I?" Turk said. "I am not going to let the disease take over my life."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun