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Maine girl makes it her mission to get diabetic alert dog for a friend

Seventh-grader Greer Altman is trying to raise enough money to buy her friend, who has Type 1 diabetes, a diabetic alert dog.
(Photo contributed to News Center Maine)

YARMOUTH, Maine (WCSH) — It’s been said that a true friend never gets in your way unless you’re going down. What might be even more precious, though, is a friend who jumps in to prevent you from going down in the first place.

Greer Altman is that kind of friend.

Greer is a seventh-grader at Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, Maine. Over the fall, she became fast friends with sixth-grader Lucia Littlefield when they started playing volleyball together.

"She's really funny, and she's really fun to be around. She can be a little loud sometimes but so am I so that's OK," Greer said.

As they became friends, Greer started to learn about Lucia's Type 1 Diabetes and how much time and attention not only Lucia but her whole family has to give to the autoimmune disease. Lucia also has hypoglycemic unawareness, meaning she does not feel when her blood sugar is high or low. An app alerts her when her blood sugar is off, but the app can not always catch the plunging highs and lows quickly. Lucia's mother, Kristen wakes up several times a night to check on Lucia's blood sugar levels.

At Harrison Middle School, students are given 10% of their time to work on a project they are passionate about. When Greer learned how expensive but beneficial a highly trained diabetic alert dog could be for her friend, she got to work and used her "10% Time" to work on it.

Greer created a website, LifePupforLucia, a GoFundMe page and a logo. She raised $7,000 with plans for more fundraisers and raffles but then, the coronavirus hit, stifling her fundraising efforts.

"[An alert dog] is very expensive. They're around $26,000," Greer said.

The diabetic alert dog Greer has found for Lucia comes from Seacoast Breeders in Merrimack, Massachusetts. Courtney Breen, who breeds Labrador retrievers and trains them to be diabetic alert dogs, also Type 1 Diabetes and hypoglycemic unawareness. Breen herself had a diabetic alert dog for seven years before he died, named Blue.

"If not saving my life, he definitely saved me from medical emergencies," Breen said.

Before she got Blue, Breen's husband never felt comfortable leaving her for business trips. She said having a diabetic alert dog changed her life and lessened the anxiety of living with a dangerous disease that has no cure.

Chappy will be the third diabetic alert dog Breen has trained. Chappy was handpicked from his liter when he was just 8 weeks old because of the good traits he displayed.

"He's a very, very loving dog, very compassionate and very composed. He's amazing. I am the most proud of him," Breen said.

After more than 2,500 hours of training, Chappy is ready to start scent training to Lucia's salvia. Breen will train Chappy to alert Lucia when he smells high or low blood sugar. But he can't start until enough funds have been raised and until social distancing is over because right after training to Lucia's scent, he needs to be placed with her.

Breen said she can wait until the now 13-month-old pup is up to 18 months to scent train him. After that, she says she wouldn't trust that the training would maintain.

"This story is weirdly full circle," said Breen, who grew up in Yarmouth and was friends with Lucia's mom in high school. She believes Chappy is meant to be with Lucia.

"We are not giving up hope. I know that it'll happen," said Kate Altman, Greer's mother. "It'll come through, it's just been a different journey than we thought it would be."

As the expression goes, every dog will have its day, and Greer Altman is hoping that means one day, Chappy will be with her friend, Lucia Littlefield.