SALT LAKE CITY — The sandwich is loaded with roast beef and Swiss cheese, but Bravo doesn't seem the least bit interested in stealing a bite.
Instead, the chocolate Chesapeake Bay retriever is more focused on what nobody else in the room can smell: His diabetic owner, K.C. Owens, is just a few minutes away from needing an emergency dose of glucose.
With his keen sense of scent, Bravo can detect that Owens' blood sugar is on the way down, and fast.
To get her attention, he pads over to her on the sofa and rests his head on her knees. When that doesn't work, he gives an agitated whimper and stands on his hind legs to nuzzle her neck. Finally, he crosses the room to an end table, fetches Owens' blood glucose monitor and drops it in her lap.
The look that he flashes Owens shows he means business.
"If Bravo could talk, he'd say, 'See that? What are you waiting for? Use it!' " says Owens, ruffling the dog's fur and giving him a hug. "He's very persistent, and more than once, that attribute has saved my life."
Bravo is among a small number of elite service dogs trained in the relatively new field of "diabetic alerting." Although several organizations train and sell the canines to diabetics, Owens discovered her dog's talent by accident about two years ago.
"I've had diabetes since 2000, but a few years after I got Bravo, I had to get an insulin pump and my blood sugar started taking wild swings," she recalls. "I noticed that Bravo acted restless whenever I was experiencing a low. I've trained dogs my whole life, and I'd never seen anything like it. I thought, 'No way. It can't be. How could he possibly know?' "
After learning on the Internet that some dogs can detect when a person's blood sugar is on the way down, Owens decided to put Bravo through some intense training.
Eager to share what she's learned in the hope of helping other diabetics — particularly children — she invited me to join her for a Free Lunch of takeout roast beef sandwiches at the home she shares with Bravo and another alert-dog-in-training, Radar, on Salt Lake City's west side.
A lifelong dog lover who took her first steps holding onto a coon hound's collar, Owens, 45, says her life has been saved several times by her dogs when her blood sugar was so low she could barely function.
"Sometimes, it happens so fast you hardly have time to react," she says. "I call it 'getting stupid.' I'm not able to think, not able to move. But the dog will keep nudging me and keep making noise until finally, I'll realize that I need some insulin."
Owens, who takes Bravo everywhere, including to her job at the Crossroads Thrift Store, wishes that every diabetic had "a tool like this in their arsenal."
"I think of all these moms and dads who have to get up four or five times a night to check on their diabetic kids," she says. "Imagine how a dog like this could change their lives."
But before forking over several thousand dollars for a specially trained canine, Owens recommends doing some serious homework.
"Unfortunately, not every organization out there selling dogs like this is honest," she says. "I've heard of a few lawsuits. So you have to be careful, and you also have to remember that the dog is a tool. There might be a time when the dog makes a mistake. Nothing is ever 100 percent."
Bravo, though, comes pretty close.
"He hasn't missed an alert yet," says Owens proudly. Bravo's eyes follow her as she walks into the kitchen to put her sandwich in the refrigerator. "Not to worry, Bravo," she says. She'll be sharing it with him, later.
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