Brenda Vaughan feels like she just won the lottery.
Last week, a service dog she had longed to have for her youngest son, Philip, arrived in San Luis Obispo County fresh from a training program in Oklahoma.
The English golden retriever named Remington (“Remmy” for short) was funded in large part with donations raised by sixth-graders at Branch Elementary School in Arroyo Grande.
The students raised so much — about $17,600 — that combined with the $9,000 she raised, there was enough money left over for her to purchase a 2002 Toyota Sienna, which will fit Philip and Remmy much more comfortably than her station wagon. The dog cost $18,000.
“I feel so blessed and thankful,” Vaughn said this week. “I can never say thanks to everyone because I don’t know who all the donors were.”
Philip, a junior at Nipomo High School, has Down syndrome, and in February 2010, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
His mother wanted to get him a diabetic-alert dog trained to react to the chemical change produced by his blood sugar highs and lows and alert an adult nearby.
Having Remmy will give Philip a little more independence — he’ll be able to go over to a friend’s house, for example, and the retriever will alert an adult in plenty of time for insulin to be administered.
After learning of Brenda Vaughan’s wish, 43 sixth-graders at Branch Elementary stepped in and chose the family for this year’s community service project.
“The project touched the hearts of people in the county,” said Cheryl Little, one of two sixth-grade teachers. “I do this every year, and every (project) is special. But the amount of money raised — it was kind of incredible.”
The students sold raffle tickets for an iPad and iPad mini, sold popcorn on Fridays and created presentations to solicit donations from local businesses and service groups. After local media reports about the project, Little said numerous checks totaling thousands of dollars were sent to the school.
Brenda Vaughan and Philip brought Remmy to Branch Elementary on Monday so the students could meet the retriever.
“They were just humbled and so happy to see the dog,” Little said of the students. “Philip has become a classmate.”
Brenda Vaughan, an assistant district manager for CIPS Marketing Group Inc., which provides home delivery services for The Tribune, raised an additional $9,000 in part through four garage sales and donation events hosted by local restaurants.
Remmy was trained at Heartland Diabetic Alert Dogs’ facility in Enid, Okla. A trainer then traveled with Remmy to the Central Coast, where Philip and the 14-month-old retriever met last week.
At first, Remmy was a little jumpy, since he traveled on two different planes and wasn’t accustomed to the sounds and smells of Vaughan’s home.
“After awhile, he caught Philip’s scent well enough, and it was like something clicked,” she said. “And he said, ‘That’s my boy. That’s who I’ve been smelling for several months now.’ ”
Remmy will alert an adult with his paw when Philip’s blood sugar level gets too high or low.
“He doesn’t shake hands because that’s how he learned to alert you,” Brenda Vaughan said. “All he wants to do is give you kisses and licks. He’s an absolute sweetheart.”
Cynthia Lambert writes the South County Beat column on Wednesdays. Reach her at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @South CountyBeat on Twitter.