Bonnie Bartos, physician assistant and certified diabetes educator, works for Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James. She enjoys the most basic part of her job – helping others. But Bartos requires a little help of her own. Enter Mickey, an 11-year-old German shorthaired pointer named after a Mickey Mouse-shaped spot on her backside. Mickey helps Bartos – who is hearing impaired and has Type 1 diabetes – at home, during conferences and in the office.
“When there is a large group of people at a conference or meeting, it’s often hard to differentiate between who is speaking to the group or me specifically,” says Bartos. “Mickey is trained in name recognition, so she lets me know if a person is talking to me and where they are.”
Mickey assists Bartos with navigation through the busy hallways and parking lots at the clinic, and when Bartos is buried in paperwork, Mickey makes her aware of visitors in the office or if the phone is ringing. She accompanies Bartos to work a few times each week, depending on the office workload.
That’s not all that Mickey helps Bartos with. At home, Mickey lets her know about various sounds, including if someone rings the doorbell, if her alarm is buzzing, or on those cold, winter nights, if her tea kettle is signaling that the water is ready. This ensures that Bartos doesn’t miss important details in her busy life.
Since Bartos has Type 1 diabetes, she trained Mickey to help her with this as well. When she is sleeping and her blood sugar gets low, Mickey is prepared to alert her to get up and take care of it. Bartos designed a special mechanism that detects excessive sweating – which occurs when her blood sugar is low – and signals an alarm Mickey responds to.
This level of training did not come without effort. Bartos and Windom, Minn.-based dog obedience teacher Jerry Moon trained Mickey when she was young. This has enabled the German shorthaired pointer to be extremely helpful and responsive even when distractions are present. One distraction she enjoys when her “on-duty” vest is off is flashlights. They seem to be her favorite toy.
It takes a great deal of compassion, focus and understanding to devote your life to helping others, and Bartos can truly appreciate what it means to receive help. Mickey has made Bartos’ personal life and work as a health care provider much easier. Bartos also works at Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield.
“She really is my second set of ears,” adds Bartos.