Whether Churchill High School freshman Ben Ownby is competing in a swim meet or just taking practice laps in the pool, his dog, Dakota, is nearby watching.
Ownby has Type 1 diabetes and his blood sugar levels must be watched closely.
That is where Dakota comes in.
Dakota, a 5-year-old Labradoodle, has been trained to detect whether Ownby is in trouble by smelling the teen’s breath or body odor. And he can do so from up to two-thirds of a mile away.
“When my blood sugar is low, he jumps on me,” Ownby explained. “And when my blood sugar level is high, he bites on a wrist band I wear.”
“I love him a lot,” the teen says. “He’s more like a sibling to me than he is a dog.”
The two are a common sight around the Churchill campus, as well as the pool.
“He’s been a regular around here for quite some time,” said swimming coach Mark Jedow. “They are not a distraction at all. It’s kind of nice having a dog around. Dogs are comforting."
That’s particularly true for Ownby. Especially when it comes to swim meets.
“Before a race, he always kind of calms me down so I’m not as nervous,” he said.
Asked whether the friendship goes as far as Dakota helping with his homework, Ownby grinned and said, “I wish.”
Then he quickly added, “But he doesn’t eat it, though."