Juno, an abandoned Belgian Malinois, was three days away from being euthanized at an animal shelter in East Tennessee when Chester Hembree saw her picture on the shelter website. “I had the feeling in my gut that I had to go see this dog,” Hembree recalls. Unlike Juno’s original owners, Hembree, a former law enforcement officer, understood the Malinois breed, reports Global Animal.
“I used to help with the training of police K-9s, and our dogs were Belgian Malinoises,” he says. “I loved their desire to work and their ‘never quit’ attitude.”
Hembree needed Juno’s work ethic and dedication. He’d selected the dog as a companion for his son, Lucas, who suffers from Sanfilippo syndrome, an inherited metabolic and degenerative disease. As Sanfilippo progresses, children lose the ability to speak, walk and eat. The condition can also cause neurological damage leading to seizures.
“The most catastrophic thing parents hear when they learn their child has this disease is that there’s no cure or treatment available,” says Chester. The Hembrees had searched for a service dog to make Lucus’ life a bit brighter, but were told the dogs would cost about $15,000 and that because of his condition, Lucus wouldn’t have made a good match for a dog anyway.
But Juno and Lucus seem meant to be together. While Chester Hembree planned to give Juno plenty of time to adjust to her new home before he began her training, Juno and Lucus seemed to have an immediate, instinctual connection.
One day Chester noticed Juno circling Lucas while he was in his wheelchair. “She was whining and nudging him with her nose,” Chester says. “I checked his oxygen levels and they were very low.” After giving him oxygen, Lucas returned to normal and Juno greeted him with licks and affection.
“That’s when I knew she had the ability to pick up on his neurological changes,” Chester says. “Now she alerts us when Lucas is about to have a seizure or if his oxygen levels drop really low. She has saved him several times.”
While Chester tries to make sure Juno gets time off, he says it’s hard to get the dog to leave her boy’s side. “It really feels like it was meant to be.”