Steve Wolf, a Santa Rosa family practice physician, is a diabetic who has hypoglycemic unawareness, meaning he does not sense the symptoms, such as shakiness, sweating and weakness, of a plunging blood sugar level.
Kermit, a yellow Labrador diabetic alert dog trained to warn Wolf of such episodes — frequent for an insulin-dependent diabetic — is also proficient at intelligent disobedience, meaning he can ignore his master's commands when his nose knows better.
Together, they are a perfect pair, as Wolf discovered on the first day with Kermit in March 2012.
At a World Diabetes Day program on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Wolf recalled that morning, when he was leaving home in Windsor and Kermit refused to get into the car.
Wolf quickly checked his blood sugar level, testing a drop of blood in a small glucometer, and found it was 60 milligrams per deciliter, well below the preferred range of 80 to 130.
"The very first day I had him he saved my life," Wolf told an audience of about 80 people.
Before he got Kermit, Wolf's blood sugar had once plummeted to 40 while he driving south on Highway 101 and managed to pull off the highway safely.
"I couldn't remember how to shift my car," he said.
Ingesting sugar or simple carbohydrates restores a diabetic's blood sugar level, but knowing when to do it can be a matter of life and death.
At an earlier session Thursday, world-class triathlete Jay Hewitt recounted how he gets through a 140-mile swim, bike and run Ironman competition with diabetes.
"I never forget during the Ironman that I have diabetes," said Hewitt, 46, a former member of the U.S. national triathlon team. "I forget they (the other athletes) don't."
Checking his blood sugar in the transition moments between swimming, cycling and running — and several times during the 26-mile marathon — Hewitt said he keeps his blood sugar between 100 and 150 by eating and drinking on the move.
The ecstasy of the last 150 meters, running past cheering spectators and loud music, helps him fight through the stabbing, burning pain of the marathon.
"I do it for the finish line," said Hewitt, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 1991.
He challenged other diabetics to set high goals and risk failure. "If it's easy, it's not worth doing," he said.
Amber Gentry, 36, of Santa Rosa, who was diagnosed at age 13, said she thought she was doing well by playing softball at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg in 1996.
"That extreme is like crazy to me," Gentry said after hearing Hewitt's talk.
With Kermit relaxed at his feet, Wolf explained that diabetic alert dogs are trained to detect the scent of low blood sugar, which is universal.
Combining that with recognition of his master's distinct scent, Kermit can pick up Wolf's falling blood sugar level from another room or amid a crowd of kids at a diabetes camp.
Kristin Schmidt of Forestville, who attended Thursday night's program without her alert dog, said she is rarely separated from Rochelle, a yellow Labrador.
"She's my best friend," said Schmidt, 18, who graduated from Analy High School in June and now attends Santa Rosa Junior College — with Rochelle.