Dogs are on the Clock in Orcutt

: Chanda Hagen and Kestrel, Auggie at library, Jacquelyn Huebner and Aspen

From alerting their owners about blood sugar levels to sniffing out guns and pests, Orcutt area dogs are on the clock.

Orcutt resident Chanda Hagen, says that her 6-year-old labrador, Kestrel, changed her life. “I used to hide in the corner and not interact with people. Thanks to Kestrel, people aren't scary to me anymore.” Hagen, who trained dogs and horses for 35 years, has been in a wheelchair for eight years because of genetic-related disabilities. Kestrel, Hagen’s 4th service dog, has the temperament that service dog owners and handlers want, “loves to work, is treat-motivated, fearless, trainable, connected to the owner, extremely comfortable and friendly to all, and not upset by other dogs,” explains Hagen.

Hagen explained that getting around in a wheelchair can be quite dangerous. She’s had close calls with cars and once face-planted on a “lumpy sidewalk.” Kestrel’s job includes pulling the wheelchair when needed, retrieving dropped items, pushing buttons for crosswalks and doors, and creating a safe space for Hagen. “She’s my partner. People smile at her and start conversations,” she adds.

Jessica Kromer, son Kovey Allen, has diabetes.  Kromer trained her dalmatian, Arson, to bark and poke with his nose to alert Kovey that his blood sugar is reaching danger levels. The most important on-duty time for Arson is at night when Kovey may sleep through a device alert. One night, Kovey’s blood sugar plummeted to 22, which could lead to diabetic coma. Arson jumped on the bed to alert Kovey to eat the emergency glucose. “One hundred times over Arson has saved Kovey’s life,” Kromer says.

Jacquelyn Huebner from Orcutt, says she was able to attend CalPoly with the help of her dog, Aspen. Aspen alerts Huebner to rising anxiety levels. Symptoms like jumpy legs, finger flicking, and fast breathing/heart rate, will cause Aspen to nudge Huebner's knee, stare at her intently and even jump in her lap. Jacquelyn has delt with her anxiety since junior high. The idea of moving 45 minutes away for college “was terrifying,” says Huebner, but getting Aspen, “opened up my life.”

Huebner described a day at Disneyland when Aspen accompanied her on rides and “worked hard all day long creating space." Aspen creates space by sitting behind Jacquelyn in lines and circling her in crowds. Aspen also picks up items Huebner might drop during an anxiety attack.

Local students will get to see Huebner and Aspen this summer at Camp Hope, where she attended as a student, and this year will be teaching about service dogs. Camp Hope teaches kids about animal responsibility.

Other Orcutt working dogs are Auggie, owned by Susan Sauvain. Auggie listens to children read at libraries and “lifts spirits” at schools and senior homes, explains Sauvain.

Santa Barbara North County Sheriff’s Department has Thor, a highly trained German Shepherd. He can track people, bombs, firearms, and drugs. Dumas is a Labrador trained by the United States Department of Agricultural who works at post offices, FedEx, UPS, and On Track to sniff out agricultural pests and insects. He jumps on infected boxes on conveyor belts with a high degree of accuracy. Dumas has volunteered to demonstrate his abilities at Camp Hope this summer as well.

Katy Jacobson reporting

Meet Nero

Neo, 3, is friendly to humans of any size and other dogs. (No idea about cats.) He’s happy, affectionate, gorgeous and been at the Foster shelter, sadly, since November! To meet this happy guy and set him free, call (805) 934-6119.