Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation


“Obviously the person who has diabetes is affected, but so is the entire family,” says Vicki Santo. Her husband, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Santo played major league baseball (1960-1974) with diabetes, and suffered consequences of the disease throughout his later years, including the amputation of both his legs.

Vicki says her husband sometimes didn’t know what was happening as his blood sugar roller coastered out of control because the change came on so suddenly. But another family member figured it out.  “Ron might be watching a ball game in another room and Joker would come to get me, like he was frantically barking ‘follow me.”

Vicki followed her Australian Shepherd many times to find that her husband was suffering from a severe drop in blood sugar, and then provide appropriate aid.

Joker and the legendary Cubs third baseman and then broadcaster ironically had an odd relationship with Santo once saying, “How can man’s best not like me?”

Of course, Joker loved Santo – their connection was palpable. After all, Joker knew Ron better than anyone, including his doctors.

Ron was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2003 that then returned in 2010. “

Vicki recalls. “While we were waiting for confirmation of the biopsy, we were sitting in our living room and Joker sat next to Ron, with his paw on his knee. Ron looked at me and said, ‘he knows.”

After two rounds of chemotherapy, Ron’s kidneys shut down and he passed away in 2010.

“Five weeks later Joker was losing his balance,” Vicki recalls. “I prayed to God, ‘Please God, you took my husband, don’t take my dog too.’ A trip to the vet, and my worst fear came true. Joker’s kidneys were shutting down, they were filled with cancer. As the vet put him to sleep, I put my hand over his eyes and told him,” Joker, you did your job to help me (to) help Ron.’ I now look back and see how special Joker was and see that he was meant to be with Ron.”

Only later did Vicki learn dogs could actually be trained to detect diabetic highs and lows.

Adults with diabetes always worry something will happen in their sleep – but if they awaken there’s a chance they can understand what’s happening and react. Children aren’t able to do that. “Parents of diabetic children really never sleep,” Vicki says.

All everyone wants is as normal a life as possible. Vicki realized that providing service dogs trained to dependably alert for diabetic highs or lows might actually save lives, and daily affect the quality of life for families.

“Ron’s lived to make a difference in people’s lives, and he loved dogs,” says Vicki. “He would have loved this idea.”

Vicki founded the Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation in 2012, and it became an official non-profit 5013C this year. There are seven Labrador Retrievers in training as diabetic alert dogs.

The first dog to be placed with a family is Tyson, who was just paired with Logan, a 23-year old diabetic, who also has Down’s syndrome.

Logan doesn’t always have the ability to discern when his sugar levels are about to spike or crash. As a result, he’s landed in intensive care on several occasions.

His mom, Angi Graham, says, “At school we needed to hire a nurse to be with him, even on the bus. And as parents, we feel we need to be there, always. That’s unfair to Logan, who wants more independence.”

Of course, the dog is also giving mom and dad peace of mind.

Sometimes Logan’s episodes would come overnight. So, Angi purchased a baby monitor so she and her husband could hear Logan’s unrest. However, Logan protested, and he continually unplugged the monitor.

A dog is a monitor that Logan not only doesn’t mind but welcomes.

The Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation made it possible for the Grahams to get a dog, and get one affordably, for a fraction of the $18,000 cost (after all these dogs are specially trained). However, it’s the peace of mind which Angi calls “Priceless.”

Ron and Vick i Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation will introduce their first dog officially at Goose Island ( 3535 N. Clark St., Chicago) 5 p.m. on September 3 (before the Cubs game);  donations of course, $10 and up per person would be nice.  There will also be some memorabilia for sale, with proceeds benefiting the Foundation, also Ferguson Jenkins will be there signing stuff to support the Foundation.I will emcee the event.

Jenkins will sign baseballs September 1 through 3 at the Cubs games, and proceeds will benefit the Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation.

©Steve Dale PetWorld LLC; Tribune Content Agency