Whitefish couple helps Lakeside girl fund diabetic-alert dog

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  • Al Stinson of Whitefish looks on as Courtney Rhoades examines the check he presented her on Saturday at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside. The donation from the Stinson Family Foundation was enough to fund a diabetic-alert service dog for Rhoades, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes last year. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Al Stinson of Whitefish presents Courtney Rhoades with a check to help fund the purchase of a diabetic-alert dog Saturday at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Tina Rhoades of Lakeside hugs Lisa Stinson after she and her husband Al presented Tina’s daughter Courtney with a check to help fund the purchase of a diabetic-alert dog.

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    Lisa and Al Stinson pose alongside Tina and Courtney Rhoades after presenting Courtney with a check to fund her diabetic-alert dog Saturday at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Al Stinson of Whitefish looks on as Courtney Rhoades examines the check he presented her on Saturday at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside. The donation from the Stinson Family Foundation was enough to fund a diabetic-alert service dog for Rhoades, who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes last year. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Al Stinson of Whitefish presents Courtney Rhoades with a check to help fund the purchase of a diabetic-alert dog Saturday at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Tina Rhoades of Lakeside hugs Lisa Stinson after she and her husband Al presented Tina’s daughter Courtney with a check to help fund the purchase of a diabetic-alert dog.

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    Lisa and Al Stinson pose alongside Tina and Courtney Rhoades after presenting Courtney with a check to fund her diabetic-alert dog Saturday at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

Courtney Rhoades thought she was just going to lunch with her mother last Friday. But when she arrived at Glacier Perks Coffee House in Lakeside, there was a couple waiting there especially for her.

They’d heard her story and wanted to help.

The 9-year-old Type I diabetic was diagnosed last fall and had been fundraising ever since for a $25,000 diabetic-alert dog.

She’d tried using continuous glucose monitors to keep tabs on her levels, but for some reason, the device just didn’t mesh well with her body. A dog, on the other hand, would be able to sense a high or low blood-sugar level 20 minutes faster than a monitor and accompany Courtney both stay and night, providing her mother Tina with some much-needed relief. The single mother of two has had to wake every three hours to check Courtney’s sugar levels, all while balancing work, parenthood and online studies.

As of early October, the family had reached the $10,000 mark by selling dog treats at community events and yard sales, and partnering with local businesses for raffles and other small-scale ventures.

An Oct. 16 article in the Daily Inter Lake detailed the family’s struggle with Type I diabetes and caught the eye of Whitefish residents Al and Lisa Stinson. Al was facing his own battle with the disease and Courtney’s story struck a chord.

“When I see something that is a need, if I can, I will help. That’s what we do,” Al Stinson said.

On Oct. 17, Stinson sent an email to the Daily Inter Lake, stating that he intended to donate the remaining funds necessary for Courtney to purchase her service dog though the Stinson Family Foundation. Meanwhile, the Flathead Valley community delivered an outpouring of support — more than 20 individual donations poured in for Courtney in the days following the story’s publication.

“It was just like taking this 100-pound weight off of my heart,” Tina said. “It was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, finally, after going for 12 months and wondering if this is ever really going to come together.”

And on Friday, it did.

Al turned to Courtney as she entered the coffee shop and handed her a white envelope with her name on it, scrawled in blue.

She tentatively opened it, her eyes widening when she saw the amount — $5,130 and turned a smiling face in his direction.

She finally — finally — had enough money for her service dog.

“I feel hopeful again about my life, about our life,” Tina said, “and that’s such a great thing to have when you haven’t had it for so long.”

She, too, embraced the Stinsons, with a huge grin lighting up her face.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Tina told the couple, “There’s no words I could ever say.”

“It just warms your heart,” Lisa said. “She is probably not going to know the full benefit of it until the dog gets here. However, she understood that her world’s going to change and she’s getting a gift that she’s wanted for a long time.”

A Virginia-based dog training company, Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, will begin training a dog specifically for Courtney now that the Rhoades family can cover the full cost of their four-legged friend. Tina said it could be eight to 10 months before the dog is ready, as the company doesn’t specialize the animal’s training to Courtney’s scent and needs until the canine is paid for in full. Courtney requested a chocolate Labrador, if possible, and will also determine the blood-sugar range the dog needs to sense and how it will alert her to any abnormalities, such as by barking or pawing for example.

Courtney said the check came as a surprise and she’s “really, really happy” about getting her service dog.

“When this opened up, I thought, we did it,” her mom added. “We actually pulled this off. I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face.”

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or by email at mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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