Stonington - For the past four years, Heather and Adam Hudson have gotten up several times each night to check their son Christian's blood sugar levels.
They had no choice because if his blood sugar falls too low, he could slip into a coma. Christian has been a Type I diabetic since he was four.
But now that 7-week-old Malachi has arrived in their Pawcatuck home, the Hudsons likely will be sleeping through the night.
The fox red retriever has been trained by a Virginia company to be a diabetic alert dog, able to detect the scent that diabetics give off when their blood sugar levels are too high or too low. The dog then repeatedly lifts its paw or touches its nose to a person's leg, depending on whether the odor indicates high or low blood sugar. If the diabetic does not take action, the dog then goes to another person until someone responds.
On Tuesday, his first night in the Hudson's home, Malachi noticed Christian's blood sugar level was low and alerted the Hudsons by loudly scratching on his crate in Christian's room.
"I don't like to be dramatic, but this is lifesaving," Heather Hudson said Wednesday afternoon as Malachi played nearby. "It's just given us a sense of relief and security."
Malachi will not accompany Christian to West Broad Street School this fall, but his trainer Andy Harrison, from Warren Retrievers in Orange, Va., said the dog still should be able to detect whether Christian is having a problem at the school a half-mile away, and react accordingly.
Harrison, who had trained other types of dogs for nine years before working with diabetic alert dogs, said he initially had doubts about the breed's amazing capabilities. But, he said, dogs have "diagnosed" people with diabetes before they knew they had the disease. Others have been trained to call 911 if no one is available to help.
Harrison is spending three days with the Hudsons, helping Malachi get adjusted. Over the next two years, he will keep in close contact with them about Malachi's ongoing training and will make periodic visits here to check on his progress.
In a few months, Malachi will be able to bring Christian a juice box from the kitchen if his blood sugar level falls to low. He also will be able to retrieve a glucose monitor.
"The idea is for the family to sleep in peace," he said.
The Hudsons also plan to bring Malachi to Christian's lacrosse games so he can monitor Christian while he's playing.
"He'll give us much better control over the management of Christian's diabetes," Heather Hudson said.
She learned about diabetic alert dogs by doing some research on the Internet, then contacted Guardian Angel Service Dogs, a nonprofit organization whose president, Dan Warren, owns Warren Retrievers.
A friend who works for Connecticut Special Wishes put in a request and the organization donated $5,000 towards the purchase and training of the dog. The Hudson's continue to hold local fundraisers to obtain the rest of the money.