To say it was love at first sight might be too strong a cliché, but it was definitely work at first sight for Dylan and Jack. Three years ago, Dylan Lancaster was a 10-year-old boy with type 1 diabetes. Jack was a chocolate lab who had been trained to recognize blood sugar fluctuations. Dylan had saved and strategized ways to get the $20,000 dog, so it was comforting to realize Jack had started working the moment they met.
Jack began pawing at the boy, becoming agitated. It was exactly what he was trained to do. Sure enough, Dylan’s blood sugar was off, and his new dog was on it.
“My blood sugar was just a big high,” Dylan said. “So Jack came in and started alerting on me, and it was the coolest thing ever because as soon as we met he knew my scent, and he knew what my blood sugar was.”
Only a year earlier, Dylan, who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 5, learned about how useful diabetic alert dogs are for people like him. The hefty price covers the training—similar to seeing-eye-dog training but with an added component that trains the dogs to recognize high or low blood sugar by smell. Dylan’s family scrimped and saved for a year before they could get Jack.
Then Dylan surprised his parents with an idea.
Dylan’s father John remembers when his son realized other people might not be able to get an expensive therapy dog.
“He said, ‘It’s not fair. If I get a dog, then we need to help other kids get a dog,’ ” John said. “I looked at my wife, and we both knew—it’s on now.”
So, that sparked Dylan’s Dogs for Diabetes—D Cubed for short—a 501(c)3 organization that has raised enough money in three years to buy four diabetic alert dogs. D Cubed even helped one family keep their dog from being repossessed when they couldn’t pay off the loan.
“With knowing how terrible [diabetes] is for people and knowing that these dogs are literal[ly] lifesavers [that] can prolong your life, to say, ’Not only did I get one for myself, but I got some for other people,’ that makes me feel better than anything in the world,” Dylan said.
Jack goes everywhere with Dylan—school at Monrovia Middle School, hanging out with friends, etc. He’s similar to other therapy dogs in that he provides emotional support for the young teen, but he also works to keep Dylan healthy. When someone’s blood sugar is too high, they emit a sickly sweet odor dogs can smell. When it drops too low, the odor is more metallic. Normally, a person with diabetes isn’t able to recognize blood sugar fluctuations until the levels are dangerous, but dogs like Jack can alert before it gets serious.
Jack comes from National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, a group that works with trainers to ensure the dogs are able to go on planes, trains, buses, restaurants and even farms without getting distracted, Dylan said.
Jack alerts Dylan by pawing or jumping on him. But if things get too out of whack, Jack will start making noises to get everyone’s attention. The alerts are persistent. John said he will not settle down until Dylan’s blood sugar has returned to a normal level.
John also mentions that having a dog lets Dylan focus on something other than his illness. Dylan takes care of Jack. He feeds him, gives him treats and works on his training.
After Dylan was diagnosed, he set a goal to hike 100 miles along the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness. The first year was rough. The small team of preteens and adults made it 15 miles through pouring rain. John thought that would be the end of this goal, but Dylan was still determined. He trained at the gym for the next year and returned to hike 22.5 miles. Jack made the trek with them.
He’s up to 85 miles now, with a plan to complete the last 15 in 2017. As he hikes, Dylan hands out bracelets to people he meets and tells them about diabetes awareness and diabetic alert dogs. He’s met people from all over the world who now share in his mission to get the word out.
Some of Dylan’s favorite memories come from his trips with Jack along the Appalachian Trail.
“We were staying in cabins, and we were done sleeping on the floor, and we decided to live the easy life for three days while we were up there,” Dylan said. “As soon as we got to the hotel, we went out to eat. When we got back, we just flopped down on the bed, and the next thing I knew, it was morning, and a bunch of pictures of me and Jack snuggling on the bed had made it all over Facebook and Instagram.”
A Black Tie Affair
Dylan raises money through spirit nights—when local restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds from a certain night—and other events he helps plan. On one of his favorite spirit night events, a group of kids from England who were going to Space Camp came into Cheeburger, Cheeburger for an authentic American meal. They all gave him their leftover pocket change, resulting in a $700 collection.
In true, 13-year-old style, Dylan came up with a new idea for a fundraiser after watching a superhero movie where the characters hosted a black-tie fundraiser for a fire department. The first wave of invitations for the 200-seat dinner will go out soon, and Dylan’s pretty confident most of the seats will be filled because of the nature of the event.
“It’s such a good cause,” Dylan said. “It’s a young person helping other young people across America live longer.”
The next spirit night for Dylan’s Dogs for Diabetes will be on October 29 at the Cheeburger, Cheeseburger on the corner of Whitesburg Drive and Airport Road.
Proceeds raised from 2 to 9 p.m. that night will go to help others get diabetic alert dogs. Trideum Corporation is matching a portion of what will be raised in this spirt night.
The D Cubed dinner will be November 17 and is open to the public. Tickets are $80 each or $600 for a table that seats eight.
The event is black-tie optional or casual black tie. Men are asked to wear a suit and tie if not a tux, and women are asked to wear appropriate dresses. Men’s Warehouse is offering a $40 discount to anyone who is renting a tux for the evening. The code to use is 6976267.
Head over to the D Cubed Facebook page for more information on the black tie dinner and the spirit night.