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Diabetes alert dog is godsend for family

The whole family

Diabetic alert dog Josie with Bennett Petrea, his sister Kynley, and his parents, Maggie and Adam.
Susan Shinn/for the Salisbury Post

You’ll notice that Josie is softly placing her paw on Maggie’s lap. This is an alert signal that Maggie needs to check Bennett’s blood sugar. Maggie tested Bennett just after this photo was made, and his blood sugar was 299. Normal blood sugar runs around 100. Photo by Susan Shinn Turner, for the Salisbury Post.


Josie, a diabetes alert dog, softly places her paw on Maggie Petrea’s lap. This is an alert signal that Maggie needs to check son Bennett’s blood sugar. Maggie tested Bennett just after this photo was made, and his blood sugar was 299. Normal blood sugar runs around 100.
Susan Shinn, for the Salisbury Post

By Susan Shinn Turner

For The Salisbury Post

ROCKWELL — Bennett Petrea is the most precious 3-year-old you’d ever want to meet. He goes everywhere with Josie, his 3-year-old Labrador retriever, and he’s fond of telling folks, “That’s my DAD.”

It’s not an inaccurate statement. Josie is a diabetic alert dog — “DAD” for short. Since her arrival in Rockwell last month, she has become a key part of the Petrea family, which includes Bennett’s parents, Adam, 31, and Maggie, 30, and his sister, Kynley, 7. If Bennett’s blood sugar drops below 80 or rises above 180, Josie will softly place a paw on Adam or Maggie’s leg. Because Adam has Type 1 diabetes, Josie alerts him as well. Adam says she’s about 45 minutes ahead of a monitor and about 45 minutes ahead of when he notices any changes.

Josie has been a godsend for the family, Adam says. She came from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers in Virginia. Based in Madison, the facility trains dogs for diabetic alert, autism service, post-traumatic stress disorder service, and seizure response.

As you might guess, service dogs are not cheap. The Petreas had to raise $25,000 to purchase Josie, a fox red Labrador retriever who weighs in at 50 pounds.

In November, Warren Retrievers helped the family set up a fundraising page, through which every dollar raised would go toward Josie. Staffers told the Petreas it would likely take six months to a year to raise the money.

They didn’t know about Miss Ruth.

Ruth Morgan is a member of Central Baptist Church in Kannapolis, a church Adam has attended many times over the years with his grandparents, Bobby Joe and Joyce Petrea. Morgan recently closed out a savings account and planned to give the money to Shriners Hospital. After hearing about Bennett, she decided to give the money to him for Josie — more than $21,000.

“We raised the money in three weeks,” Maggie says, smiling.

“Miss Ruth has a history of diabetes in her family,” Adam says. “She had that connection, and she wanted to help.”

She’s Miss Ruth to Adam. But not to his son.

“Who is Miss Ruth?” Maggie asks Bennett. “What do we call her?”

“She’s my angel,” Bennett says.

There’s that adorableness again.

Just after he says that, Josie quietly walks over to Maggie and puts a paw on her leg.

“Josie’s alerting me,” Maggie explains. “Come here, baby, and let me check your sugar.”

Bennett knows exactly what that means. He scootches across the floor to meet his mom, who gently pricks his finger.

The strip reads 299.

“That’s high,” Maggie says.

“That’s high!” Bennett echoes.

She immediately gets Bennett’s insulin pen — to which Bennett reacts like any 3-year-old. What kid wants a shot? After some coaxing, he allows his mom to gently give him a shot in his arm — “rub it,” he says — then happily goes back to playing with his toys.

Bennett takes about five to six shots a day, his dad said. People with Type 1 diabetes are insulin-dependent and must take insulin to balance out the foods they eat.

“Any time anything goes in his mouth, we have to check his sugar,” Adam says.

Adam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — also called juvenile diabetes — when he was 13. He’s had an insulin pump since age 16 that delivers a consistent level of insulin during the day. But his son is just too small for a pump right now.

Bennett was diagnosed with diabetes in October. He turned 3 in April. His parents had no idea he might be diabetic. Adam and Maggie were high school sweethearts. So both of them have been dealing with diabetes for a long time, Maggie says. “It’s a blessing for Bennett, because we know what we’re doing.”

“For us and for Bennett,” Adam says, “I think it was a good thing we had dealt with it.”

The couple are often asked if Bennett will outgrow diabetes. The answer, of course, is no. But with Josie, they have greater peace of mind because they know she’ll let them know if anything is wrong — even if they’re doing everything they possibly can for Bennett.

“When you live with Type 1 diabetes,” Maggie says, “every day is a science experiment.”

“It’s frustrating because you can be doing everything right,” Adam says. “But Josie is catching Bennett’s blood sugar levels before they get out of hand.”

Josie has been trained to monitor Bennett’s sugar levels by her keen sense of smell. If Bennett’s blood sugar is low, she detects an acidic smell. If it’s high, she detects a fruity smell. Adam confirms this. He says he gets a metallic taste in his mouth when his own blood sugar is low and a fruity taste when it’s high.

“Daddy, can you taste it?” Kynley asks.

“Yeah, I can tell,” Adam tells her, snuggling her close.

Adam and Maggie credit their faith for helping them cope with diabetes. Adam’s parents, Chuck and Jayne Petrea, live close by. Maggie’s mom, Patti Boles, lives in Sylva, and her dad, Truett Boles, lives in Kannapolis.

“My family is very faithful,” Adam says. “We’re very involved in church. I did ask my dad why this had to happen to Bennett. But with our family, everybody has stuck together and been behind us.”

Bennett goes to preschool with his three cousins. They were all born the same year.

“They know when he checks his blood sugar, and they make sure he’s OK,” Adam says. “Josie is 100 percent the product of our faith. She was a pipe dream. But I can honestly say she has definitely been the godsend we have needed as a family.”


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