Emma Brussell's longtime dream of owning a diabetic alert dog finally came true last year. Now, the Farmingdale 10-year-old is helping a Louisiana girl get one of the highly trained dogs, too.
"This is something she wanted to do even before she got Rufus," said Kelly Brussell, Emma's mother. The yellow English Labrador retriever received months of training to use its sense of smell to alert Emma when her blood sugar levels are high or low; the dog cost $15,000.
"That same day that we got the money we needed to buy her dog, Emma told me, 'I want to keep going [with fundraising] ... to help other kids get their dogs,' " Brussell said.
Emma was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 3. The autoimmune disease causes a person’s pancreas to stop producing insulin, a hormone people need to get energy from food.
About a year and a half ago, the Brussells founded Emma's Journey, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children with Type 1 diabetes get alert dogs. Since then, mother and daughter, along with Emma's little sister, Lily, 9, have been hard at work fundraising for the charity at street fairs and community events.
Emma began raising money to buy her own alert dog by creating and selling paintings of fishes, owls and penguins on Facebook. She had raised almost $2,000 when two donors, who had read a Newsday story about her efforts, contacted the family offering to pay the full cost for the dog.
"So, I've continued painting and selling and we now have prints, and greeting cards and magnets," Emma said. "It's been fun and exciting and a lot, a lot of work."
Diabetic Alert Dogs of America in Las Vegas, the company that trained Rufus, referred applicants in need of financial assistance to the Brussells.
Emma's Journey received seven applications, and selected AddieGrace Louviere, a 10-year-old from Louisiana who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last October, to receive the nonprofit's first $7,500 grant.
AddieGrace, an animal lover whose hobby is riding horses on the family farm, lives with her parents and four younger siblings in Centerville, a rural community in the southern part of the state.
The school she attends is small and does not have a school nurse, and though she, like Emma, wears a Dexcom, a continuous glucose monitor that tracks blood sugar levels, the device often malfunctions, said her mother, Emily Fontenot.
"One of AddieGrace's main symptoms, when we found out she had Type 1, was weight loss," Fontenot said. "Because her body fat is so low the [monitor] often cannot read her levels accurately, so you can only imagine how thrilled we all are for this dog."
When AddieGrace and her mom, who have also been fundraising to afford the alert dog by hosting rodeo events like barrel races, received the call informing them that AddieGrace had been selected as the winner of the grant, "Oh, she was just speechless," said Fontenot.
"I was just so ... mindblown," AddieGrace said, adding that the dog would change her life.
"My mom would finally let me go to my friend's house," she said.
"It's hard to let her go anywhere without me being there," said Fontenot. "I'm always worried something bad could happen but once the dog is here, I'll have more peace of mind."
Diabetic Alert Dogs of America will train AddieGrace's dog, a process that takes eight to 10 months.
As public awareness of alert dogs and the work they do grows, so does demand, said the company's client services director, Christy Weaver.
The dogs can cost $10,000 to $25,000, according to the handful of organizations that provide them.
Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, which delivers about 10 dogs each month, has a waitlist of 42 people, Weaver said, adding that more than 95 percent of applicants ask for financial assistance.
"That's why I think what Emma is doing is so great," she said.
"That little girl's heart is so big. When she called me to tell me she had enough money to give another child, there was so much excitement in her voice, she must've been jumping up and down. I think she was almost as excited as when she called me to tell me she had enough money for her own dog."
EmmasJourney.org Charity Art Show
Seven mixed-media artists will exhibit and sell their work, priced from $5 to $500, to benefit nonprofit Emma's Journey. The charity will receive 10 percent of sales.
WHEN Sunday, 1-4 pm
WHERE Charlotte's Speakeasy, 294 Main St., Farmingdale
INFO Mike Pagano, 516-633-7297
FREE Children welcome