Diabetic Alert Dog Attends Nursing School with Her Human, Earns Honorary “Dog-ree”

Mona is the first dog in the history of the University of West Georgia ever to earn an honorary college degree. And we think she more than earned it.

Mona the labradoodle, who is a diabetic alert dog, works with her human, Maggie Leptrone, a nursing student at Tanner Health System School of Nursing (THSSON) who has suffered from type 1 diabetes for nearly two decades. Mona always lets Maggie know when her blood sugar gets out of range and could endanger her health or even her life.

“In my junior year of high school, there came a day when my blood sugar went way too low and I could not get it back to where it needed to be for a long time,” Maggie remembers. “I drifted into a mini-coma during my sleep, and my parents could not wake me up for a long time. Once I came to and got my blood sugar back to a manageable level, my mom decided that I needed something I could really depend on in my upcoming college life.”

That’s when they decided to get Maggie some extra help so that they wouldn’t have to worry about her so much when she went off to college. Maggie was matched with Mona, a dog specially trained by Diabetic Alert Dogs of America to alert her to a diabetic episode before she’s even aware of the symptoms so that she can get treatment before it gets out of control.

“Getting Mona meant wading into unknown waters and learning new ropes in dealing with the general population,” says Maggie. “I have gotten a pretty good handle on informing the public about what it means to have a service dog and what kind of service dog mine is.”

Mona has to be by Maggie’s side at pretty much all times so that she can alert her if her blood sugar is too low. This means that she has attended all of Maggie’s classes with her and been by her side during labs, clinical placement, homework, and more.

Mona has more or less fulfilled all the requirements of Maggie’s degree with her. And that’s why the school decided to award Mona with an honorary “dog-ree” when she and Maggie walked across the stage on Maggie’s graduation day.

“Maggie – and Mona, of course – are truly extraordinary,” says Dr. Jenny Schuessler, dean of THSSON. “Having been a diabetic for most of her life, Maggie knows what it’s like to need good nursing care, so to see her excel through nursing school has been such a rewarding experience. She credits the supportive care from her nursing professors for her success, but the faculty give all the credit to Maggie.”

And a little bit of the credit goes to Mona, of course, for helping keep Maggie healthy throughout her college career.

“I am so excited that Mona can be a trailblazer at UWG for students like me who require a service dog to manage their health,” says Maggie.

Maggie says she’s grateful for the faculty and staff at UWG who welcomed Mona into their classrooms, offices, and labs.

“Every one of my professors has been a blessing to me,” she says. “They have been understanding of my situation and welcomed Mona and myself with open arms. My professors did not see a hindrance to my education but saw a student who has overcome a lot of odds to get where she is today. Each professor worked with me and helped me find ways to do my job with Mona staying at my side.”

Maggie has now accepted a position in the intensive care unit with WellStar Health System in Douglas County. And of course, Mona will be with her every step of the way.

Congratulations to both Maggie and Mona on earning their degrees and starting the next chapter of their lives! We wish you all the best!

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Elizabeth Morey graduated summa cum laude from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she dual majored in English Literature and Spanish with minors in Writing and Business Administration. She was a member of the school's Insignis Honors Society and the president of the literary honors society Lambda Iota Tau.

Some of Elizabeth's special interests include Spanish and English linguistics, modern grammar and spelling, and journalism. She has been writing professionally for more than five years and specializes in health topics such as breast cancer, autism, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Apart from her work at GreaterGood, she has also written art and culture articles for the Grand Rapids Magazine.

Elizabeth has lived in the beautiful Great Lakes State for most of her life but also loves to travel. She currently resides a short drive away from the dazzling shores of Lake Michigan with her beloved husband.

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