Almost all high school students flip eagerly through their yearbooks to find their photos, but for Coalville, Utah’s Hailee Blonquist, this year’s class lineup revealed a delightful surprise: The “student” pictured next to her was her golden retriever, Katie, a service dog that has come to school with her every day for the past two years.
“I thought they might stick a picture of her somewhere in the yearbook, but to see her right next to me as ‘Katie Blonquist’ was pretty cool,” Hailee, 17, a junior at North Summit High School, tells PEOPLE. “Everyone loves Katie. She’s always been by my side.”
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December 2014, Hailee ended up in hospital emergency rooms several times following dangerous drops or spikes in her blood sugar levels.
“For the first year after she was diagnosed, it was a rough go,” says her mother, Destinie Blonquist, an elementary school technology teacher. “She would have everything from seizures to passing out for 20 minutes to more than two hours. It was a scary time.”
When a friend told Destinie and her husband, Axcil, that there was an organization in Salt Lake City — Tattletale Scent Dogs — that trained dogs to “alert” diabetic owners to high and low glucose levels, she was skeptical at first. But she decided to get Hailee a puppy and see what happened.
“Incredibly, since we received Katie, Hailee hasn’t had any more scary episodes,” Destinie tells PEOPLE. “She lets Hailee know when she needs to check her blood sugar, and she’s enabled her to maintain her numbers evenly. She’s given us all peace of mind. She’s part of the family.”
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When Katie senses that Hailee’s blood sugar levels are about to change dramatically, the canine fetches her a juice box when the teen is at home or will place her paw on Hailee’s left hand or somebody else’s hand as a signal.
“I would say she’s probably saved my life six or seven times,” says Hailee, who found out that she had diabetes after passing out at a recreation center on New Year’s Eve in 2104. “When Katie started going to high school with me, she immediately became everybody’s friend.”
“She sprawls on the floor under my chair during class and goes to lunch with me in the cafeteria,” she says, “and sometimes, I share my French fries with her. They’re her favorite treat.”
Now that Katie has appeared in the yearbook, Hailee hopes for a repeat showing next year, only with one difference:
“Since it will be my senior year, I want her to wear a cap and gown and have a senior quote,” she tells PEOPLE. “Something like, ‘Hey, do you want F-O-O-D?’ Katie’s one smart dog. When you spell something out, she definitely understands it.”