Jonesy brings Barrie boy relief
Jonesy, a two-year-old American cocker spaniel therapy dog snuggles with 12-year-old Ben Hallahan at his north-end Barrie home, Wednesday. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO
Ben Hallahan knows when his blood sugar is low; he doesn’t need a dog to tell him that.
But the recently diagnosed 12-year-old does need the emotional support his therapy dog Jonesy offers him.
Curled up on his lap, looking very much like flopsy, black teddy bear, the two-year-old American cocker spaniel works her magic as Hallahan and his mother, Lori, talk about his diabetes.
Ben started losing weight in Grade 5, Lori said. After a year of visiting the family doctor, a pediatrician and endocrinologist, a blood test finally revealed his blood-sugar ratio was off the charts.
“A friend came over – her son Noah’s a diabetic – and we tested his blood. The number was off the glucometer. It goes up to 30, and it was over that,” Lori said.
As Lori spoke of the diagnosis, Ben realized he was feeling stressful and picked up Jonesy to cuddle. Within minutes, his good nature returned and he was able to crack a few jokes.
Jonesy is part of a pilot project run by Sweet Charity Medical Assistance Dogs.
The new not-for-profit charity received an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant of $73,000 to train therapy dogs to help newly diagnosed diabetic children deal with the challenges of coping with the disease.
“Jonesy doesn’t alert for low blood sugar, she’s just for support,” said Lori Johnson, founder of Sweet Charity.
People who have a chronic illness often suffer from feelings of anxiety and depression because they feel different from other children, said Johnson.
“And diabetes never rests. You can’t just go about your life and think ‘I’ll worry about this on Monday’. It can be very challenging,” she said.
Johnson believes the early intervention from a therapy dog will help to provide support and offer a child the confidence they need to come to terms with their new condition.
Johnson said when she started the program, she knew she was looking for a “Velcro” dog, the sort that will follow you around and want to sit on your lap.
When Jonesy arrived at the Hallahan house in early August, she became Ben’s dog and he was responsible for feeding and walking her, so they could form a bond.
The Hallahans paid $2,500 for the pooch, but Johnson said it costs about $8,000 to train a therapy dog and about $16,000 to train a therapy alert dog, one that will alert a diabetic to low blood sugar.
Ben is able to gauge his own sugar levels, so he needed a therapy support dog, she said.
Sweet Charity is hosting its Go Dogs Go event to introduce their organization to the public at Nottawasaga Pines Secondary School in Angus on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
People are invited to bring their dogs to the event, where they can participate in a track challenge and visit the dozen display booths and vendors.
For more information, visit www.sweetcharity.ca.