It’s scary enough for Ben Ownby’s parents to let their son leave the house without their guidance. Since he was 17 months old, Ownby has lived with Type 1 diabetes and has had to monitor it manually because of an allergy to all adhesives. His parents monitored it personally for as long as they could, but once Ownby reached a certain age, he began to struggle keeping his blood sugar levels in check.
Now Ownby is a high school swimmer for San Antonio (Texas) Churchill High. He’s also exceptionally healthy while competing, no small feat given all the energy he expends while swimming. There’s a reason for Ownby’s more stable health and his energized, active sporting life, and that reason has four legs, and his name is Dakota.
As reported by the San Antonio Express News and KENS-5, among other outlets, Ownby travels everywhere with a service dog named Dakota, a 5-year-old Labradoodle that has been trained to alert Ownby any time his blood sugar is too high or too low. When he’s in school, Dakota sits patiently by his owner, then pulls on a designated bracelet if Ownby’s blood sugar is too high, or jumps up on him if his sugars are too low.
When Ownby is at the pool, the routine is only slightly different. Dakota can judge Ownby’s blood sugar ratio from the smell of his sweat and breath, but when he’s at the pool, Dakota has to wait on the pool deck. He does so quietly, unless Ownby’s sugars spike. Then he begins barking and reacting wildly until Churchill coaches alert Ownby to check his levels.
There’s no worry about being in an Olympic-sized natatorium, either: Dakota has caught scents of Ownby’s breath three-quarters of a mile away in the past.
While Dakota is only there for Ownby, he has plenty of fans. The other Churchill swimmers have grown accustomed to having Dakota hanging out around the pool and often pet him as they walk by. The mild-mannered doodle is all to happy to receive that affection, so long as it doesn’t distract him from his monitoring of Ownby.
The Churchill coaches have named Dakota an honorary assistant coach -- “Except all you need to do to make him happy is give him a little belly rub,” Churchill coach Mark Jedow told the Express News -- and he has made the pairing of Ownby and Dakota easily the most popular freshman duo on campus.
It’s not hard to guess who earns most of the adoring stares.
“Once I brought him to school, I got swarmed by everybody,” Ownby told the Express News. “But I'm not the popular one. He is.
“He's more like a sibling to me. It seems like he has feelings, too. He's so much more than just a dog.”