“He’s made me a better person and a better hockey player.” That’s what rookie sensation Max Domi says about his two-year old diabetic-alert dog, Orion. Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 12, Domi’s first question was, “Can I still play hockey?” The answer was yes but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It’s still a challenge, but Orion has made it easier and safer.
Like many diabetic-alert dogs, Orion is a Labrador Retriever who has been trained at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Orion was trained by Canine Hope for Diabetics to do his job, which is to detect odor changes that indicate a low blood sugar level and alert Domi. When Domi is awake, Orion alerts him by pulling at the bringsel (which looks like a small foam roller) that Domi wears at his waist. That’s the cue to Domi that he should check his blood sugar, which he does 15-20 times most days, but around a dozen times before, during, and after each game in addition to the rest of that day’s tests. When he is asleep and his blood sugar drops, Orion wakes him up by barking and jumping on him. If that doesn’t rouse Domi, then the dog will use his paws to wake him up with some well-placed contact to the face. Low sugar levels in his blood can be especially likely after a late-night game, so Orion’s tenacity about waking him up is especially critical at those times.
Domi had to go through a huge process to be considered for a service dog, and that included writing essays about why he was worthy of receiving such a dog, why he wanted one and what would do with him. He also had to meet several dogs so that the trainers could choose the dog they thought was the best match for Domi. For example, of the dogs under consideration, one was eliminated for not being as good in crowds, which is obviously not ideal for a professional athlete. I really enjoyed a recent video on ESPN that discusses what Orion does for Domi, and includes good footage of this adorable and hard-working dog.
Orion travels with Domi to all their games so he must be able to handle the air travel, the huge crowds, hotels, the ice rinks and the generally complex and crazy life of a professional hockey player. One challenge for anyone with a service dog is preventing other people from petting him or otherwise distracting him while he is working. All the other players along with coaches and other staff of the Arizona Coyotes know that they cannot interact with Orion when he is working. When he is off duty, though, he is just as friendly and loving as you might expect, and everybody cherishes the time they get to spend with Orion when he is not working.
Domi treasures all his time with Orion and is grateful for how much easier it makes it to concentrate on hockey. At only 20 years old, he’s arguably the best rookie in the NHL, so any fan of Domi or his team should appreciate that, too.