Meet Ruby, a Diabetic Alert Dog

Ruby is alerting Faith that her blood sugar is not within the 100-180 range. Photo by Type 1 Diabetes Foundation
Ruby is alerting Faith that her blood sugar is not within the 100-180 range. Photo by Type 1 Diabetes Foundation
photography by William Neal

Often, while in the middle of a deep sleep, I start dreaming about food–sandwiches, doughnuts, steak, peanut butter cups, gnocchi. It doesn’t matter what it is, I dream about it all. Slowly, I start to wake up. And that’s when I realize my blood sugar is low. I stumble into the kitchen, and in a half-conscious state, dig through the pantry and eat. The next morning, I go back to the kitchen and am ashamed of what happened during my “midnight feeding.” It’s amazing what combinations of food seem like a good idea when I’m half-awake. (Apparently, peanut butter goes with everything.)

This is just what life’s like for me, a type 1 diabetic. I was diagnosed when I was 3. Two-year-old Faith Wilson was diagnosed when she was 9-months-old. She doesn’t dream about food when she’s low. She doesn’t wake up. Life for her, her siblings, and her parents has been a nightmare. But things got just a bit easier a year ago when the Wilsons got Ruby, a British Lab.

It was a string of miracles that led the Wilson family to Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi, to pick up Ruby. Even though it can take years to match a Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD) to its family, the Wilsons were picked for Ruby within a matter of days. It also takes quite a bit of time to secure the $10,000 this highly trained Lab costs. But, again, through multiple miracles, including the Diabetes Friendly Foundation’s help, the Wilsons were able to go pick up Ruby with money in hand.

That first night was an indication of just how badly the family needed Ruby.

The day had been spent getting to know the young dog. Oddly, 18-month-old Faith’s blood sugar had been normal the whole day. Not once did Ruby alert, which is what she does when Faith’s blood sugar is below 100 or above 180. (Ruby alerts by retrieving a stick called a bringsel, or if she can’t find it because it’s not in its designated place, she takes the glucometer to Faith’s mom. She uses smell to “test” Faith’s levels.) But as the Wilsons got Faith ready for bed, Ruby suddenly alerted. They tested their daughter’s blood sugar. It was 160, a perfectly normal number for her to go to bed with.

Fifteen minutes later, Ruby alerted again. This time, Faith’s blood sugar was 80. Sarah, Faith’s mom, treated the low by giving her some sugar. Fifteen minutes later, Ruby alerted again. This time, Faith was 60. Sarah gave her more sugar. Fifteen minutes later, same thing. But this time, Faith was 50. At this point, Sarah began crying. “This is exactly the help we needed,” she says. Fifteen more minutes pass, but this time, Ruby doesn’t alert. Sarah takes Faith’s blood sugar anyway. It’s up to 110. “We started off with a bang with Ruby,” Sarah says.

Before Ruby, Sarah says, their lives were difficult. Sarah would set her alarm clock to go off every two hours during the night so she could get up to test Faith’s blood sugar levels. “We needed some kind of help,” she says. “I really didn’t think she was going to make it if something didn’t happen.” That something was Ruby. “I can count on my fingers the number of times she missed an alert,” Sarah says. “She has made the most difference.”

I tell you all this because the Diabetes Friendly Foundation, which provides money for diabetic children to obtain a DAD, is having a benefit this Saturday at F.I.G. If you’d like to learn more about DADs or the event, go here. If you’d like to hear of some great midnight recipes involving peanut butter and pickles (yes, that’s actually happened), shoot me an email.

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