Pacing the sidelines of Upland High School’s football field, Astro keeps a close eye on kicker Luke Van Ginkel.
The Labrador retriever raises some eyebrows from the stands since trained rescue dogs are often accompanied by a vision-impaired handler, which the talented kicker is not.
“They always come up to me and say, ‘excuse me, what’s your dog for? Are you training it, or something, for someone else?’ Van Ginkel said. “I said, ‘No he’s for me, it’s a new thing. It’s for diabetes. He can alert me when my blood sugar is off.’”
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Astro underwent two years of specialized training to sense when Van Ginkel’s blood sugar is at a dangerous level.
“They have a very low-key alert that is easily recognizable to the handler but not something maybe other people would notice,” said Johanna Reynolds, a trainer at Canine Hope for Diabetics.
The alerts can be as subtle as Astro picking up a specific toy, but he doesn’t always have to be close to sense something is amiss.
“My mom will tell me, ‘Astro is acting funny, can you check for me?’” Van Ginkel said. “He’s been right every time so I think it’s … spiritual, or something like that.”
Luke’s father and coach, Pete Van Ginkel, said having Astro around puts him at ease.
“It is an advantage just having him there. It’s one less thing we have to worry about,” Pete said.
Most days if Luke is in sight, Astro isn't far behind. The yellow lab even has a school ID card.
“I awake the day with him next to me, he sleeps with me at night,” Luke said. “The rest of day at school he’s with me, then he’ll come back up to the field with me at practice.”
"He's saved my life a couple of times," Luke added.