Sugar Dog Stories – Cappy & Max

CHAPTER FOUR – CAPPY spontaneously alerts for low blood glucose!  

by Irene B. 

I get a newsletter from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuft’s University called Your Dog.  They have interesting articles regarding medical advances for dogs and also have a question and answer section where you write in and ask the ”experts” about a dog’s behavior.

I wrote and asked why Cappy gently takes my wrist or hand in his mouth and rubs his tongue in and out on my skin.  The answer and a picture of Cappy appeared in the August 2011 issue. saying that he is exerting control or extracting information.  It was a long answer, but that is the gist of it.

One particular morning Cappy woke me at 5:30 a.m.  He was licking my face, whining and pushing me with his paws.  I felt something was wrong and checked my blood sugar, which was very low.  Had I been allowed to sleep another hour I could have been in a coma, or worse.  As I live alone, a coma might have ended my life.

After the newsletter came out,  I received a call from a nice woman in Florida (Paula Nunnery) who gently asked if I had a medical problem.  I told her I had diabetes – she said that was why he was taking my wrist in his mouth…(he was testing me).   She volunteers with an organization where Poodles are used as diabetic alert dogs to sense when a diabetic’s sugar is low or high.  They only use Poodles since they are more in tune with it.  They teach you to fine-tune the dog’s natural ability to sense the problem, if necessary.  Seems Cappy is a natural.  He spontaneously alerted to my blood sugar problems!  Every morning he comes onto the bed and checks me out.  If I am ok, he lays down beside me.  If my sugar is low (or high), he makes sure I get up and can be a little obnoxious about it if I try to ignore him. (Good boy, Cappy!)

Sugar Dogs International has certified Cappy as a diabetic alert dog, sent me a certificate of confirmation and a diabetic alert dog patch for his red service dog vest.  I also received training materials.  I had to get a vest for him to wear because I want to take him into stores or restaurants, etc. in an emergency.

The name of the organization is Sugar Dogs International and can be found on the Internet –   It is a very interesting and informative website.  Or you can email Paula at

Irene’s Sugar Dog CAPPY

Cappy – alerts spontaneously!

And loves to watch other dogs on TV!

More about Cappy’s history:

After I had to put Max to sleep, I was trying to find another Bichon, but the price was too high.

I had a Poodle years ago and decided to check the ads in the paper for one.  Came across an ad and called.  The woman said the puppy was mahogany color with green eyes and I had to see him.  I called my friend Jane and we drove up to Shirley, LI the next day.  Jane was trying to talk me out of getting another dog right away, but the house was too lonely.  The woman brought this bundle of fluff out and it was love at first sight … for both of us.  She said several people had come to look at him and they thought he was too shy.  He was also 3 months old.  Well, he took to me right away and was anything but shy.  When I tried to hand him back to her to sign the papers, he did not want to go to her.  I like to think he was waiting for me to come along.  When we got home, the poor dog didn’t know what grass was and stuck to me like glue.  Jane said Cappy knows he is my dog.

From the moment I got him home, he was so good.

He never did his business in the house nor did he bark.  He finally did bark and looked around as if to say, “What the heck was that?” and he scared himself, so he has never uttered another word!  (So much for the people that say Poodles are “yappy!”)  I think Ben trained him in Heaven before sending him to me to watch over me.  Ben did not like a constantly barking dog.  I never had to train him.  He took to the leash and prances alongside me, never pulling.

He did show some odd behavior – such as putting his mouth gently around my wrist and rubbing his tongue back and forth over my skin, so that is when I wrote to Tuft’s University to ask the experts.  You know the rest.  (See beginning of story above the photos.)  I heard from Sugar Dogs International and you taught me that Cappy was alerting me.  A few days before your call he woke me up that morning when my sugar was so low.  Now I understand that he had been trying to alert me at other times when he pestered me around the time I take my sugar reading in the evening.  Cappy is not a ”cuddler” like Max was.  In fact he is quite independent, but he is always close by.

Of course, picking a name was a challenge.  I decided to call him Cappuccino because of his color and the white ”foam” on his chest.  Well, that is a mouthfull to name a dog, so it was shortened to Cappy.  Besides, it fit, because Ben was a ferry captain and a lot of people called him Cappy.  I do feel that Cappy has a connection to Ben.  (Ben was Irene’s husband, who passed away.)

I do not regret that I could not get another Bichon.  Cappy and I are suited to each other.

So that is my story about Cappy, and if there is anything in particular you would like to know, just ask.  Email Irene B by clicking on the email link below.


Irene and her Sugar Dog CAPPY

The following article and Irene and Cappy appeared in the Shelter Island Reporter

Irene Byington, outside her home on Jaspa Road, with Cappy, dressed in his official uniform. ‘He doesn’t alert for the doorbell,’ she said, ‘but he does for my low blood sugar.’

Island Profile: You get attached to a dog that may have saved your life

By Carol Galligan | 10/09/2011 10:18 PM |

Not everyone has a dog who may have saved their life.

In Islander Irene Byington’s case, it wasn’t a dog barking in the middle of the night to warn of fire. Nor did a dog pull her to shore after a fall through the ice. Ms. Byington’s rescue was far more complex but equally dramatic.

She’s a diabetic. She was asleep in her house on Jaspa Road about two years ago. It was 5:30 in the morning and Cappy, her two-year-old miniature poodle, “jumped up on the bed, which he never does, and he cried and licked my face and woke me up,” recalled Irene. “He kept pushing me with his paws as if to say, ‘You’re going to get up, one way or the other!’ And when I got up, I felt very queasy and fuzzy. My blood sugar was very low. Now I usually sleep much later than that and if I’d slept for another couple of hours, I could have been in a coma or dead. He saved my life.”

Even before that event, Irene had been wondering about Cappy’s unusual behavior. She had often wondered why he “would take my hand in his mouth and very gently rub his tongue back and forth on my skin.” She had written to an “Ask the Expert” newsletter to inquire. The newsletter’s response was not entirely clear but someone who had read her question [called] her from Florida. The woman, Paula Nunnery, thought she knew the answer.

Ms. Nunnery [volunteers with] Sugar Dogs International, Inc., an organization that teaches poodle owners to train them to “alert” when a diabetic’s blood sugar is abnormally high or low. In other words, she trains the owners to train their dogs. When a person enlists in the program, she sends them all the necessary information on training procedures and keeps in contact with them as training proceeds. Ms. Nunnery thought the answer was simple — Cappy was a “natural” sugar dog. They are always poodles and somehow they can detect a blood sugar crisis. She said Cappy’s gentle rubbing of his tongue on Irene’s hand was a common trait of poodles with the ability to become alert dogs. One theory, it has to do with their sense of smell.

Irene’s own health is reasonably good these days despite the diabetes and her back injury. In fact, she looks on her diabetes as “a blessing in disguise” because it forced her “to really sit down and take note of what I was eating. I had to change a lot of things and right after Ben passed away I lost over 80 pounds, about 85 now. Then I walk with Cappy, which is good because I have a bad back and should be walking. I take him for one or two walks a day depending in the weather.”

Irene is in constant contact with Sugar Dogs International and will gratefully accept donations for them, forwarding them along to the Florida headquarters. She said she would be happy to answer any questions from Islanders. Her phone number is in the book and her box number is 31C.

As many long-time Islanders know, Irene was married to Ben Byington, Island chief of police from 1966 to 1972 and a town councilman from 1976 to 1984. Ben, who died in 2007, two months short of their 40th wedding anniversary, was born and raised on Shelter Island and lived here his whole life. The only exception was his four-year stint in the United States Army during World War II, when he landed at Normandy, fought his way across Europe under General George Patton and was with the 731st Field Artillery at the Battle of the Bulge.

Irene learned she had diabetes not long after Ben died. She bought Cappy purely for companionship without a clue that one day he would warn her  about her blood sugar level.

“Cappy doesn’t bark,” Irene pointed out in a recent interview. “My husband never liked a barking dog. When Cappy was a puppy, he jumped up on the couch and he barked once really loudly and he scared himself! He looked like ‘What the heck was that?’ And he’s never said another word. He’s just a wonderful little animal. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful dog and I swear my husband sent him down from heaven. He trained him in heaven before he sent him down to me.”

Ben and Irene met in 1967, when Irene and her mother were visiting the Island from Brooklyn on vacation. Irene had been fishing during the day but hadn’t caught anything. A few evenings later, walking on the shore at Coecles Harbor, she called out to someone in a boat, asking if perhaps he had. “We were just talking back and forth and he says, ‘I haven’t been out yet but if you want to come out with me, fine.’ I told my mother —I was only 25 — ‘I’m going out with this man but if I don’t come back within a reasonable time, call the police.’ Then he introduced himself, and he was Ben Byington, chief of police. I called out, ‘Mom, I got the head honcho here, don’t worry about calling the police.’”

That was the end of June and Irene went back to the city about a week later. Ben called every night “like clockwork” and she came out every weekend and they were married that November 1967.

“He was on the town council, the first Conservative ever to be elected on Shelter Island,” Irene recalled. “This was a very staunch Republican town and he had quite a few set-tos with the board, all of whom were Republican. But Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter to me, if I think a person is right for the job. I don’t vote party lines. I never did. I think it’s foolish. You think about who’s going to do the better job.”

Before meeting Ben, Irene, who grew up in Brooklyn, was living and working there. She had graduated from Saint Michael’s High School. “I spent quite a few years at the bank,” she recalled, referring to Marine Midland in Brooklyn, where, eventually, she became supervisor of the stock transfer department. “It was very nice work but I came out here and met the man of my dreams.” Over the years here, she did secretarial work for Garr Realty and was a cook for several elderly people on the Island. She worked for the post office for a year and found it “a fun job” until she injured her back.

She’s not active in organizations here. “I’m more of a loner. I don’t like crowds. Speaking in front of a bunch of people, I just freeze. I’m a one-on-one person,” she said. Ben died when he was 83. There was a 17-year difference between them. “But he prepared me very well for it. He took care of the accounts, made sure I knew what I should do when the time came. He planned ahead for me. After he passed away, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m not going to like a solitary life but it turns out I’m fine with it. I have my computer, which I’m on all the time, and friends all over and we write back and forth and in a given day I can get 30 to 40 emails that I have to answer, so that keeps me busy.

“It was a wonderful life, it really was,” she said. “He was a very, very good man, honest and just a good person. I miss him very much. But I have very good memories, that’s what keeps me going. The memories and him,” she added, pointing to Cappy. (emphasis added)

Irene & Cappy are famous!

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