Our story and our success begins on a personal level. Our founder Mark Ruefenacht is a Type 1 Diabetic with a family history of blindness due to the disease. For decades, Mark has been volunteering with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) while also working as a national expert in the scientific field of measurements and reliability.
In 1999, Mark was traveling to New York City with a guide puppy, Benton, and like many diabetics, he experienced hypoglycemic unawareness and could not detect his dropping blood sugar. Thankfully, Benton roused Mark from his incoherent state and prompted him to treat himself before he was completely incapacitated. This life-saving incident inspired Mark!
What made this dog stay by Mark’s side through the night? Could the scent of hypoglycemia be isolated and detected on a reliable and scientific basis?
Five Years of Research
For the next five years, Mark explored how dogs could be trained to use their phenomenal sense of smell to detect hypoglycemia in diabetics. In 2003, GDB donated Armstrong, a yellow Labrador retriever, and Mark began training him in his unique scent-detection. Refusing numerous offers to buy his idea, Mark funded his own research and used himself to get samples for Armstrong. In the spirit of D4D, Mark felt accountable for the lives he could impact and needed scientific evidence before he could take his idea to the public. With the help of co-founder Jeannie Hickey, Mark trained Armstrong, tested him with other Type 1 Diabetics, and found that the scent signaling hypoglycemia was common to all diabetics. His hypothesis was verified!
Empowering Diabetics Since 2004
Mark founded Dogs4Diabetics in October 2004, and to this day, we are continually improving the science and processes that launched our story. D4D is proud to be the first service dog provider for insulin-dependent diabetics accredited by Assistance Dogs International. Our first life-saving partnership, Mark and Armstrong, is also recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first scientifically-trained alert team for diabetics.