For many years, the Cubs were blessed with Ron Santo entrenched at the hot corner. Later on, we got to enjoy him in the radio booth for many more years. Behind Ernie Banks, there's a valid argument that Ron Santo is deserving of the title "Mr. Cub." No disrespect to Ernie whatsoever, it's just that Ron was so active with the team for many years. Ron Santo is the only player in the major league baseball Hall of Fame who played their entire career with Type 1 diabetes.
Later in life, Ron had many complications from diabetes. He had his left leg amputated in 2001, then the right in 2002. He had two bouts with bladder cancer in 2003 and 2010, among other things. That's where a special dog named Joker comes in. From Ron's widow, Vicki:
"Ron was always a dog lover. We had many dogs during our 32 years together. Each of them held special places in our hearts, and they always had great purpose, even if it was just to be a pet, companion or a furry friend to greet us at the door when we came home. When Ron started having complications from diabetes, a dog named Joker came into our lives. We had just lost our border collie Duke and decided to get an Australian shepherd. Joker was just turning two years old and had been a show dog from Canada. He had a sense of order about him that was hard to explain. If things weren't just right, he would sit by me and pant until I fixed the problem. A small example was if the cat (also diabetic) would get on the kitchen counter, Joker would come and get me. He would sit and pant in my face until I moved the cat. I should have realized then that he was a special dog.
The complications of vascular disease had already caused Ron to have the left leg amputated in 2001 and the right one in 2002. As Joker settled into our lives he would come to me if Ron was having low sugars. I didn't know anything about diabetic alert dogs but we had a natural in Joker. When frustration and stress was at a high level, Joker would come to me and pant until I told him everything was o.k.
Because of what Joker had done, I felt that this is something that Ron would have wanted to share with all diabetics. These amazing dogs are professionally trained to alert when blood sugars change. A chemical is released that the dogs smell as much as 30 minutes before it will show up on the glucose-meter. It gives the diabetic time to either eat if necessary or take insulin. By keeping the blood sugars as close to normal as possible, perhaps we can help eliminate the complications that Ron lived with. By spreading the word, Ron’s other goal can be accomplished. To help diabetics lead normal lives and have a special companion that will do their job and alert to changing blood sugars."
Now, I am a huge dog person. I know there are seeing eye dogs, and comfort dogs, and sled dogs, and drug sniffing dogs, among many other helpers. I had no idea that dogs could be trained to sniff out a human's blood sugar, then trained to alert them. Dogs are awesome and full of surprises.
The Ron and Vicki Santo Foundation is dedicated to supporting those with diabetes, by financially supporting these special dogs and getting them to the people that need them. You may remember, in 2019, there was a "celebrating Santo" event at Wrigley from 8/30-9/1, where HOF-ers Fergie Jenkins, Lee Smith, Andre Dawson, and Goose Gossage all made appearances.
Here's an NBC news spot on the foundation: