Saturday, January 28, 2012
Lucas Hembree is a four-year old boy who suffers from Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare genetic disease, that causes an important enzyme to malfunction and not break down long sugar molecules in the body. As consequence, children with the disease suffer seizures and severe neurological damage and eventually loose the ability to speak, walk and eat. "The most catastrophic thing parents hear when they learn their child has this disease is that there's no cure or treatment available," says Lucas' father, Chester Hembree.
Lucas may not have many years remaining, but Chester and his wife Jennifer, want their son to experience the best quality of life while he can. So when Lucas began to have difficultly walking, Chester investigated getting a service dog to help Lucas. "I was told that a service dog would cost at least $15,000, and that Lucas wasn’t a good candidate because of his deteriorating abilities and his behavior," Chester says. "I refused to accept this answer."
Chester began searching online, and found Juno, a Belgian Malinois, who was scheduled to be put down. "I came across a posting about her on a rescue group’s website," he says. "I had the feeling in my gut that I had to go see this dog." So the whole family drove two hours to meet Juno, who was being held at an east Tennessee shelter. "She was emaciated and was just days away from being euthanized," Chester says. "She had been surrendered to the shelter because her previous owners didn't understand the Belgian Malinois."
But Chester had experience with the breed and gotten to love them from his work as a law enforcement officer years earlier. He used to help with the training of police K-9s, many of which were Belgian Malinoises. Says Chester: "I loved their desire to work and their 'never quit' attitude." But Chester first needed to be sure Juno would be a suitable service dog for Lucas. "I put her on on loose leash and she walked with me and never pulled," Chester says. "Next came the Lucas test. They took to each other immediately, like kindred spirits."
Since coming home with the Hembree family, Juno has taken on the role of protector to Lucas. Right away Juno seemed to have an instinct about Lucas and can sense when he is in trouble. Like on one occassion when Chester noticed Juno circling Lucas. "She was whining and nudging him with her nose,” Chester says. “I checked his oxygen levels and they were very low." After Lucas returned to normal, Juno greeted him with licks and affection. "That’s when I knew she had the ability to pick up on his neurological changes," Chester says. "Now she alerts us when Lucas is about to have a seizure or if his oxygen levels drop really low. She has saved him several times."
Juno has become an integral member of the family. She calms Lucas when he's agitated and is always next to him. And although she gets "down time", Chester admits it’s hard to get Juno to leave Lucas' side. "You don’t see one without the other close by," he says. "It really feels like it was meant to be."
Source: Dog Heirs