By Lauren Burke, Grad ’11
Residence Life employees Ava and Carrie Enea travel together everywhere on campus. They carpool to work, attend meetings and share the same office (although Ava is a bit fonder of sleeping under the desk than actually sitting at it).
Ava is a service dog for Enea, assistant director for Resident Life’s conference services. Though she admits she doesn’t “look like someone who would need a service dog,” she knows it’s crucial. Enea has Type 1 diabetes, and her blood sugar can drop at a moment’s notice.
About the time when Enea realized she wanted to start a family, she read an article about service dogs trained to help diabetics. Worried that caring for her disease might take a back seat to caring for a newborn, she applied to Can Do Canines, a Minnesota-based organization. Not long after, she was matched with Ava.
Like other service dogs trained to detect drugs or bombs, Ava uses her sense of smell — which is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s — to detect ketone, a chemical resonating from a person’s breath.
“It smells like nail polish remover,” says Dr. Robert Topp, associate dean for research in the College of Nursing. “It has a very distinct smell, and people who are diabetic will develop this smell as their blood sugar drops.”
When the 3-year-old collie smells ketone on Enea’s breath, she alerts her with a paw or a nudge. That’s Enea’s cue to check her blood sugar level. Ava will even retrieve her glucose tester from her purse or a bottle of juice on command.
Ava’s services were put to the test the first time Enea brought her to work. “She was acting kind of weird — whining as I took her around the office to meet people. So I came back to my desk and tested, and I was low.”
According to Enea, Ava also has quite a personality of her own — sometimes using her skills for her own gain. “I was just sitting in a meeting, and she went in to my purse to get the tester. Not because I needed to test but because she wanted a treat.”
She says the campus community has welcomed Ava with open arms. Human Resources had never dealt with a request for an employee service dog before but was quick to accommodate Enea’s needs.
When she’s not helping Enea, Ava can be found wandering around the Residence Life office, saying hi to the interns, getting belly rubs from her human companion’s co-workers and popping her head into the break room when there’s birthday cake.
Ava is not the only service dog on campus. Marquette has two other four-legged community members. Shay, a 2-year-old black lab, helps sophomore Sarah Patel, who is legally blind, maneuver through campus. And a graduate student’s canine companion helps its owner who is hearing impaired.