Dogs are capable of so much more than just bringing love and joy to us. Every day, specially trained service dogs literally save lives. In many cases, dogs can use their outstanding sense of smell to detect medical issues. That’s the kind of amazing animal that changed a California teenager’s whole world.
When he was just 7-years-old, Clay Ronk needed to be air-lifted to a hospital where he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. That was a terrifying day for his parents, and they wanted to make sure it never got to such a point again.
Then, Clay’s mother Karin found out about an organization called Dogs4Diabetics that trains medical alert dogs in Concord, California. Dogs’ noses can pick up scents in sweat and breaths that indicate blood sugar changes and are trained to alert people when this happens. Karin applied right away to have her son take a training course, but was told she needed to wait at least a year from the date of Clay’s diagnosis. Another application received the response that the minimum age requirement was 12-years-old.
It wasn’t until he was 14-years-old that Clay was finally accepted into a class. He and his parents completed about a five-hour round-trip every Saturday and Sunday for three and a half months to attend.
Did you know specially trained dogs can alert people with #diabetes when their blood sugar is dropping? @TODAYshow featured the story of a Northern California boy and his amazing labrador Whitley:https://t.co/m8IIHEQ0yr #DiabeticAlertDog
— UCSF Benioff SF (@UCSFChildrens) October 2, 2019
Even after Clay passed the training class, he still had to wait for a dog. Trainers at Dogs4Diabetics really work to put the right dogs with the right people.
Both the course and the long wait were difficult for Clay and his family, but he explained to Today that it was worth it.
“You realize at the end you’re getting a dog that’s going to save your life every day.”
Almost a year went by since Clay started at Dogs4Diabetics when the program manager asked him if he wanted to take a dog home just for the weekend to see what it was like. As it turned out, the dog he was supposed to bring home was injured. Since the Ronk family had already made such a long drive up there, the program manager offered to let Clay to take a Yellow Lab named Whitley home instead.
For the first time, Clay got to experience being alerted by a dog at home. Whitley licked his arm, then lowered her head to grab the cloth strip hanging off her collar. This strip is called a brinsel, and grabbing it is a signal from a diabetic-alert dog that its person needs to check their blood sugar.
When Clay checked his blood sugar, he saw that it was lower than 70. Whitley, as it turns out, is very good at her job! They rewarded her with praise and treats she only gets when she alerts.
If Whitley hadn’t alerted him, Clay’s blood sugar would have dropped even lower before he felt symptoms. As a result, it would have been more difficult and time-consuming to raise his glucose levels again.
According to Dogs4Diabetics, their scent-trained dogs can detect changes in blood sugar 20-30 minutes before the latest technology can.
Clay also reassured that Whitley isn’t constantly at work.
“Whitley, when her vest is on, is very professional, calm, cool, collected. When we’re home it’s a completely different story.”
The bond is very strong between the dog taking care of her human and the human making sure that dog is happy. With Whitley at his side, Clay feels he’s able to lead a normal life without worry. He’s currently attending college and studying to be a nurse.
Well, technically Whitley is attending college too. The two did graduate high school together, after all!
A HUGE Congrats to D4D Client/Dog Team, Clayton Ronk & Whitley, on graduating from Ukiah HS this past Saturday. Clayton received TWO scholarships & will be attending Butte College in the fall. Your #D4D family is so proud of you two & excited for your next chapter together! 👏 pic.twitter.com/5io2BjxoHp
— National Institute of Canine Service and Training (@NICST_Official) June 13, 2018
Of course you can support Dogs4Diabetics and other similar organizations if this story touched your heart like it did mine.
FEATURED IMAGE: Screenshot, Today.com