St. Athanasius pitches in for ‘blood’ hound

A boy’s best friend: Pennsylvania-born 8-year-old Joey Saunders, who suffers from diabetes, came to Bensonhurst for a fundraiser to buy him a special dog that can detect his sugar levels and potentially save his life.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Parishioners of a Bensonhurst church got together to help a sickly child get a highly trained blood hound that could save the tyke’s life on May 6.

The Saint Athanasius Holy Name Society, a Catholic charity group, held a fund-raiser at the school at the corner of 61st Street and Bay Parkway on to raise money to buy a special sugar-scenting Labrador Retriever for 8-year-old Joey Saunders, a type-one diabetic from West Pittston, Pennsylvania.

The service dog will be able to smell Joey’s blood sugar levels and warn him of danger before it’s too late, Joey’s father Tom Saunders said.

“My son doesn’t know when he’s high or low. If he gets too high, he could have a seizure, and if it gets too low, he could pass out or even die in his sleep,” he said. “And the dog can pick it up an hour before any technology can.”

But this miracle dog could do more than just sniff out Joey’s condition: if the boy’s blood sugar drops too low, the dog is trained to open the family’s refrigerator and get the boy a juice box. If Joey lost consciousness, the dog would have a special cellphone to call 911 on, Saunders claims, adding that he watched the pooches being trained on how to operate the phone at the breeding facility.

“You wouldn’t believe it. It’s pretty wild,” Saunders said.

But Saunders’ visit to Brooklyn is a story in itself.

Mr. Saunders is a volunteer at the Pittston Fire Department and named his son in honor of New York City Firefighter Joseph Hunter, who perished on 9-11. Saunders posted a photo of Hunter — who he never met — on his Facebook page, which caught the eye of retired Bensonhurst fireman Angelo Augello.

Another one of Augello’s online friends, Vicky Mandaro noticed a post on Saunders’s Facebook page about raising money for the dog — a $20,000 investment that neither the volunteer firefighter’s income or insurance will cover.

“I asked Tom what it was all about, and I just fell in love with Joey and the whole family,” said Mandaro, whose husband Jerry is president of the Holy Name Society at Saint Athanasius.

Mandaro said Saint Athanasius has raised more than $3,000 for Saunders to put down a deposit on the dog,

Little Joey was ecstatic that the Holy Name Society was helping to get a new best friend — and guardian.

“I’m excited to get the dog and I’m thankful,” the second grader said.

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