Assistance Dogs in the Workplace: Lisa Loftis and Diabetes Alert Dog Ija

High School teacher Lisa Loftis and her Diabetes Alert Dog, Ija,  work at the Creative Education Preparatory Institute (CEPI).High School teacher Lisa Loftis and her Diabetes Alert Dog, Ija, work at the Creative Education Preparatory Institute (CEPI).

In the International Assistance Dog Week newsletter, we’ve been asking people to share their stories of their dogs in the workplace.

Here’s the story shared with us by Lisa Loftis.
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Language Arts teacher Lisa Loftis and her Diabetes Alert Dog, Ija, go to work each day during the school year at the Creative Education Preparatory Institute (CEPI),  a small charter high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ija, whose name is pronounced with a long “e” sound to start, and ends with a sound like the last part of amnesia, Lisa says, has been paired with Lisa for about a year and a half. This was after about a year and a half of training.

Ija has helped Lisa a lot, alerting her to high or low blood sugar levels 15 – 20 minutes before her best equipment can. Lisa loves being a teacher and enjoys helping her students. Having Ija with her means Lisa loses much less teaching time

Everything went smoothly when Ija joined Lisa on the job. For one thing, the school administration at CEPI was fully aware that Lisa was training with Ija, and that Ija would be coming to school with Lisa when her training was complete. The students were also supportive. Key Club members even organized a fundraising project to help with expenses.

Ija was the first assistance dog at the school, and the school director had a few questions and concerns, but was very supportive. The administration just asked Lisa to keep Ija with her at all times and to keep her on leash. Whether in the classroom or the lunchroom, Ija is with Lisa.

A school visit by a dog trainer from Assistance Dogs of the West, the organization in Santa Fe that trained Ija, helped both the students and teachers at CEPI learn more about what Ija was trained to do and how they should behave around her.

Some students do still ask to pet Ija, but Lisa just tells them that they can pet her after they graduate. Then when her former students come back to CEPI to visit and tell Lisa what they’re doing, she makes good on her promise. Otherwise the students know that Ija is on the job, and shouldn’t be distracted.

Lisa also hears from students sometimes that they feel sorry for Ija because they think all she does is work. So Lisa started a Facebook page, in part to post pictures showing Ija when she’s not working. Ija enjoys swimming and hiking, going on vacation out-of-state during the summer, and sometimes just hanging out at home, lounging on the sofa.   

Whether at school, out for dinner, or visiting a doctor’s office, Lisa says the best confirmation that Ija is a well-trained assistance dog is hearing people say, “Oh, I didn’t even know your dog was with you,” when they see Ija get up and leave with her.

In addition to that, of course, is the fact that Ija is constantly attentive to Lisa, monitoring her diabetes and alerting her when needed. Having Ija on the job means Lisa can be better at her job of teaching high school students.
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Read this longer article about Lisa and Ija written by Kate Kelly: http://americacomesalive.com/2014/08/04/diabetic-alert-dog-permits-teacher-live-normally/

International Assistance Dog Week 2014 is August 3-9. Learn more about IADW and subscribe to the newsletter at http://www.assistancedogweek.org/about/.

Tell us how your assistance dog helped you to get and/or keep your job. Send in photos of you and your assistance dog at work. You can send your stories and photos to workinglikedogs@gmail.com.

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