Diabetic teen swimmer has a four-legged life preserver

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News
A Sydney dog has won national acclaim for saving the life of an elderly neighbour.

Ben Ownby, a freshman swimmer for Churchill High School in San Antonio, Texas, brings a "four-footed life preserver" with him to the pool.

Since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 17 months old, Ownby manually injects insulin seven or eight times a day. To make matters more complicated, the teen is allergic to adhesives and can't use glucose monitors or insulin pumps that must be attached to the body.

Instead, Ownby depends on Dakota, his 5-year-old Labradoodle service dog, to detect blood sugar levels.

Dakota can smell Ownby's breath or sweat when his owner's blood-sugar levels are too high or low. More remarkably, he can even detect this while Ownby is in the pool.

"He acts like I'm the only one near him, like there's nothing going on around him," Ownby said.

Dakota was trained by Guide Dogs of Texas to only pick up Ownby's scent, from as far as two-thirds of a mile away, San Antonio Express-News reported.

If blood-sugar levels are high, Dakota tugs on a bracelet that Ownby wears. If his levels are low, the dog jumps on the teen to encourage him to check his blood sugar.

"I woke up in the middle of the night and he was just standing on me and just looking at me," Ownby told KVUE. "I woke up and tested my blood sugar and it was low. He’s usually very accurate."

At the pool, Ownby ties Dakota to nearby bleachers. When the dog barks and acts anxious, Ownby's coaches tell him to check his blood sugar.

"Prior to having the dog, we had a couple of bad low blood-sugar times where he...doesn't know where he is or why he's there," Ownby's father, Bob, told San Antonio Express-News. "It's almost like he's drunk."

"He's a tool that we can utilize to help us with safety of our son," Bob told KVUE. "It was love at first sight."

In his three years on the job, Dakota has only incorrectly alerted his owner two or three times.

"And that's out of hundreds," Ownby said. "I think it's amazing."

Dakota has even become one of the school's most popular freshmen.

"Once I brought him to school, I got swarmed by everybody," Ownby said. "But I'm not the popular one. He is."