Scent with Love

by Hayden J. as told to Sheri Shepherd Levy

Six legs walked through the airport, as Mom, Granny Jane and I boarded a plane. Ten legs would return to my home in North Carolina—I hoped. 

Receiving a diabetic alert dog could help me handle my life-threatening illness. But would I find just the right four-footed friend? 

Scouting It Out

When we met the staff of the organization that trained the dogs, we learned some basic skills—without the dogs there. On the second day, the dogs were brought in. I noticed a black and white dog with a long tail. He spotted me, too. I hoped he was mine. 

“Hayden, we’d like to match you with Scout. He’s a border collie.” 

My heart skipped a beat. It was him. He was gorgeous, but very timid. 

Obedience classes lasted from 8 a.m. to noon every day. We took Scout to restaurants, grocery stores, the mall, onto elevators and a train. Since I was being graded on how I handled my dog, I tried very hard. But at the end of the week, the instructor asked me to stay after class. My stomach flip-flopped. The instructor said she didn’t think Scout and I made a good team, because he was too small and not active enough. She wanted me to try a new dog.

Back at my room, I cried. How could they take Scout away? I didn’t want another dog, and I thought Scout would work. 

The next day I met Onyx, a black German shepherd and Labrador mix. He was large and energetic. I ignored him. He stuck with me. I tried not to give in, but Onyx persisted.

I gave Onyx a chance and took him to public places to practice my new skills. The trainers wanted us to be prepared for various situations, so we went to the movies, bowling and the arcade. We even went roller-skating!

Scent with LoveRuffing It 

On the last night of training, I lay awake with Onyx at my side and remembered how I had felt two years earlier. In 2006, I got really sick. I stopped playing, lost weight and slept all the time. Mom believes God led her to mention my symptoms to Granny Jane. Since diabetes ran in our family, Granny suggested Mom use a glucose meter to test my blood sugar. The reading was so high it didn’t register. Mom thought the meter was broken, so she drove me to my Aunt Ruby’s house to use her meter. It registered the same way. 

At the nearest hospital, Mom asked the nurses to check my blood sugar. In a matter of minutes, I was wheeled into an ambulance and delivered to a large hospital in Ashville, North Carolina. I was groggy and couldn’t make sense of what was happening. I actually thought I might die.

I spent three days in the hospital and missed a week of school. The doctors diagnosed me with brittle diabetes, which meant that even with medication, my body would do weird things. At age 10, I didn’t understand my illness or why I needed all those awful shots to stay alive. 

Mom and I researched diabetes on the Internet and⎯poof!⎯ God intervened once again. One site told us about diabetic alert dogs, which are specifically trained to detect high and low blood sugar. 

At that time, our lives revolved around my illness. Mom slept during the day so she could be awake at night. She was terrified I’d have a seizure or go unconscious. 

After many conversations about a diabetic alert dog, I decided it was worth a try. Mom and Dad discussed the application fee and other expenses. They kept saying, “God will supply our needs.” 

In just three weeks, we were accepted to receive a service dog. Joy! Panic! We needed thousands of dollars. Dad’s close friend, Fred, wrote a newspaper article about me. He hosted a golf tournament, and the Green Creek Fire Department planned a fundraising supper. Our church worked with two others to raise money for our flights. 

Smelling Good

But now I had my dog and was ready for graduation from the dog placement service. It had taken a while for Onyx to alert to my scent, but now he licked my arm or leg when my blood sugar changed. We had proven we were a team. 

Back at school, many students tried to distract Onyx. The principal held an assembly about service dogs. Everyone learned they must pretend Onyx is invisible because he must smell only my scent.

More than a year later, I can proudly say that I’m living a normal life and enjoying all my favorite things, thanks to the help of a very special dog. 

Onyx alerts day and night. He goes everywhere I go and legally cannot be turned away. Mom checks on me once a night and always finds Onyx asleep on my pillow. 

Service dogs are remarkable, loving creatures. God gives us all gifts, and a service dog’s sense of smell is just one gift it uses to help save people’s lives. 

Diabetes is a very serious condition. Any and all treatments, including use of a service dog, should be discussed at length with a medical professional. Families choosing a diabetic alert dog need to properly research the organization providing the animal as well as the experience and training it provides its dogs.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2010 by Sheri Shepherd Levy. Used by permission. © Photos Courtesy Hayden's Family.