Meet Nelson: The service dog around campus

BY MADISON WEBER ’23, STAFF WRITER AND SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR

By Madison Weber ’23, Staff Writer and Social Media Editor

Third-year nursing student Alyson Witt has become a familiar face around Fisher. Whether it be as a peer minister or studying in the nursing building, she is seen in many places around campus. But with her, another face has gained fame — her service dog Nelson.

Witt was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 9, and since then regulating her blood sugars and taking insulin has become an essential, everyday task. Starting in high school, Witt began to fundraise money for a diabetes service dog. After a matching process that looked at activity level and personality, Witt and Nelson were finally able to meet during her first semester at Fisher. 

Nelson is a four-year-old black lab and comes from a long line of service animals. He’s trained to smell subtle changes in Witt’s blood sugar on her saliva 30 minutes before symptoms actually happen. This is especially important for Witt during the night, where if her blood sugar was to drop in the middle of the night while she was asleep it could be very dangerous.

“You can see him getting stressed when my blood sugar isn’t good. He’ll put his paw on my leg, sneeze, pacing, or growl to get my attention,” Witt said. In case of emergency situations where Witt is unresponsive, Nelson will go find someone else or bark loudly to get someone’s attention. He even carries emergency supplies for Witt in his service vest.

Nelson pretty much goes everywhere with Witt — something she said was really hard at first. Now Witt says it is much easier. “Everyone knows him and is super nice to him.” 

While Nelson can’t play when he’s wearing his vest, he still loves to be a normal dog when he’s not working. He loves to go on hikes, stick his head out the car window, play with his chew toys, and spend time with Witt and her friends. Witt refers to her furry companion as hilarious.

“My favorite thing about him is his personality.” Apparently, he will even smile around people that he really likes. 

 

 

One of Witt’s nursing professors and self-proclaimed dog-lover, Professor Melinda Zalewiski says that having Nelson in class is not distracting. 

“I think pets can actually help decrease stress and anxiety tremendously, so he may be beneficial to the class,” Zalewiski said. “I see all the time how excited little kids get in the hospital when the pet therapy animals come around. I think sometimes just going up and petting a dog makes people feel better, especially if maybe you are having a bad day”.

Nelson still has to train with Witt several times a week and take routine tests to make sure he is still up to par to be a service dog. He started training as soon as he was born so that he could grow up accustomed to that lifestyle. 

Even when playing, Witt says he is good with commands. “He can do sit, stay, lay down, and I even taught him how to do other things. He’s really good at learning.” 

According to Witt, being diagnosed with diabetes was at first very difficult, but she has since learned to adjust. “As I’ve grown up my mindset has completely changed … I don’t think I would be who I am without it and not to mention it brought Nelson.”

 

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