NAPA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - A very sweet relationship is developing between a nine-year-old girl in the Napa Valley and a Golden Labrador puppy named Honey.
The puppy is undergoing special training and in time will go wherever young Sophia Honig goes, tagging alongside her to keep her safe.
Sophia has type 1 diabetes. The autoimmune disease prevents the body from producing insulin and can lead to dangerous build-up of sugar in the bloodstream.
In extreme cases, serious complications include coma and seizures and can result in brain damage or even death.
Sophia and her family have to conduct 15-20 blood glucose checks a day. They use a continuous glucose monitor and sometimes have to do finger pricks to check her blood glucose values.
"Nighttime lows are the biggest danger since Sophia isn't aware of how she feels," explained Sophia's mother, Stephanie Honig. "My husband and I get up several times each night to check on her blood sugar and make necessary adjustments," Honig added.
The girl's mother also said that it is difficult living with constant worry and limiting a nine-year-old child in what she can and can't to do because of her health condition.
So Honey's upcoming role is a crucial one, as she will offer critical aid in helping Sophia manage her diabetes.
The 5 1/2 month old dog is currently learning to use her hyper-sensitive nose to detect drops in blood sugar levels and will then alert Sophia by nudging her.
Honey will be able to detect blood glucose changes 15 minutes before they even occur, which is a huge tool in managing diabetes.
"This will give us time to react and prevent the spike or the drop," Sophia's mother said.
Currently, Honey is living with her trainer, Carleigh Long, who studies at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Santa Rosa.
"The puppy is in the diabetic alert training phase and is already starting to pick up the low blood sugar scents," said Stephanie Honig.
With her specialized skill, the Golden Lab will be a constant companion to the young girl around the clock and everywhere she goes, even school.
Honey is expected to start attending school with Sophia starting in the fall, as she enters the 5th grade.
But while the dog's primary role will be to look out for their daughter, the Honigs are also gearing up to give Honey another responsibility.
The Honig name may sound familiar. Sophia's father, Michael Honig is president of Honig Vineyard and Winery in Rutherford.
The family saw the puppy as a unique opportunity to tap into the dog's keen sensory abilities to serve another purpose: to help detect the presence of vine mealybugs, an invasive pest that can pose a serious threat to vineyards.
Honey's pest detecting training, which is expected to take six months to a year, will begin after she has completed her training as a diabetic alert dog.
Once Honey has completed all of her training, she will be the world's first known "dual-purpose" sniffer canine.
Honey has already begun building a strong connection with the little girl she will soon serve.
"They are already bonding by spending time together on weekends and some afternoons after school," mom Stephanie said.
Sophia is "over the moon" about her canine companion who will soon take her permanent place by her side.
She "can't get enough of Honey," Stephanie said, noting that her daughter is a very warm and sensitive child who will not only receive the help she needs for her health, but will appreciate the companionship and emotional support brought by her new dog.