Four-year-old Lucas Hembree suffers from Sanfilippo syndrome, an inherited, metabolic disease caused by the absence or malfunctioning of an enzyme needed to break down long sugar molecules.
The Hembree family was devastated to learn that their little boy would lose the ability to speak, walk and eat. The disease also causes severe neurological damage that leads to aggressive behavior, hyperactivity and seizures.
Worst of all, there is currently no cure of even treatment for the disease.
This poor little boy isn't expected to live past the age of 15, and doctors expect he will be in a vegetative state by the time he is just 8 years old.
Realizing that every single second is important and is a cherished moment with their son, Chester and Jennifer Hembree decided to look into getting a service dog for their son. Chester was optimistic that a service dog could help keep Lucas steady as he walked and would help keep him calm when he became agitated.
The father was told that it would cost at least $15,000 to get a service dog for his son and that Lucas was not "a good candidate" for a service dog because of his deteriorating health.
Feeling defeated, Chester made one last effort to get a dog for Lucas and began looking into shelter dogs he thought he might be able to train. That is when he found Juno.
Juno was a Belgian Malinois who was surrendered to a high-kill shelter in Tennessee because her former owner did not understand her breed and did not want the responsiblity of owning her anymore.
Chester Hembree told reporters, “I came across a posting about her on a rescue group’s website. I had the feeling in my gut that I had to go see this dog.”
The whole family made the 2-hour trip to meet Juno, and it was a good thing they did because Juno was just days away from being euthanized.
Chester was confident that Juno would make the perfect companion for his son - especially since he had experience training the breed. Chester had trained Belgian Malinois during his work in law enforcement years earlier.
Fortunately for Juno and Lucas, Juno passed all of Chester's tests with flying colors. The father needed to make sure the dog would be a suitable pet for his ailing son, so he put her on a leash to see if she pulled and she did not. Next came the Lucas test, and the pair took to each other immediately.
The Hembrees brought Juno home and she took to her role as Lucas' guardian immediately.
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.
Juno can know sense when Lucas is in trouble, saving his life on several occasions. She can sense when the child is about to have a seizure or when his oxygen levels are dangerously low.
Chester Hembree set up a Facebook page in honor of Lucas and his dog Juno. Just before Christmas in 2011, there was an outpouring of support for Lucas and his amazing dog, and people all over the world were sharing their story and mailing them Christmas cards filled with words of support and kindness. The pair received more than 6,000 cards.
There is something about shelter animals that make them extra special. Perhaps it's that they know they have been given a second chance at life. But whatever it is, there is no denying the benefits of adopting a shelter animal and the joy one can bring to your life. Lucas and Juno are an extraordinary example of this.
Adopt. Don't shop.