BOULDER, Colo. -- There is a man in Boulder whose engineering smarts have helped us explore planets millions of miles away.
Yet, his greatest satisfaction comes from providing something here on earth that helps save lives.
"We are essentially training people and not dogs," said Jerry Gilland.
Gilland is a retired Ball Aerospace engineer.
He uses his backyard in Boulder to train people to understand what many dogs naturally notice.
Dogs have a unique ability to smell and sense when something is wrong.
"When your blood sugar goes low, your body chemistry changes, so your body odor changes. And the dogs sense the change," said Gilland.
For 10-year-old Grace, her best friend Copper, a 6-year-old golden retriever, notices that change.
Grace has type 1 diabetes and Copper alerts her before she even knows there is a potentially life-threatening problem.
"He can smell how much sugar is in my blood. He alerts when my blood sugar gets too high or too low. And he'll paw me or nudge me with his nose. I think it is amazing how they can do that," said Grace.
Gilland started providing dogs like Copper about five years ago through a non-profit he started called Alert Dogs 4 Kids.
"We have now graduated 14 dogs. Fourteen families are out there with children protected," said Gilland.
Gilland does this out of the kindness of his heart and with the help of the Foothills Kiwanis Club of Boulder.
"I have had two families come to me and say, 'You know, your dog saved my child's life,'" said Gilland.
For parents who often face outrageous medical bills and constant worry, the alert dogs are life changing.
"A diabetic parent typically doesn't sleep. Before Copper I was checking every one to three hours. I was up checking blood sugars. Now, I check once a night because he's watching. So, when you have a dog looking out for them with you, it is profound," said Kim Mellberg, Grace's mom.
"It is the most invaluable tool for a diabetic that we could possibly have. The dog is my daughter's lifeline. He'll let us know 30-minutes before my daughter goes dangerously low," said Marc Bullion, father of type 1 diabetic child.
And the cost for this peace of mind?
"Families pay nothing for these dogs," said Gilland.
That is rather remarkable when you consider a well-trained alert dog from a private firm can cost around $20,000.
"There are no words for what Jerry is doing for this community," said Mellberg.
"For him to selfless do the things that he does for these dogs, for these families, there's nothing we can do to repay that," said Bullion.
"He puts out his phone number and tells the kids you can call me anytime at night. So, right there it tells you he is there for them," said Alan Boeve, Alert Dogs 4 Kids volunteer.
This is all thanks to a former vice president of Ball Corporation who turned his gaze from exploring the planets to helping people here on earth.
"I have hardware that I was responsible for that is on the planet Venus. I've got something on the moon. I can now honestly say I get more satisfaction handing a leash of a puppy to a needy child than anything I ever did professionally," said Gilland.
There is an opportunity for you to help this cause.
Alert Dogs 4 Kids has an annual golf tournament on June 12. It will be held at the Lake Valley Golf Club.
"It a private club north of Boulder. So, for people interested this is their only chance to play a private club," explained Gilland.
The tournament is also It is also unique because you can bring your dog with you. To learn more go to www.alertdogs4kids.org.