University of West Georgia student’s dog awarded honorary degree

March 22, 2021
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The University of West Georgia on Saturday conferred about 1,250 bachelor’s, graduate and one honorary “bark-chelor” degree for a pooch named Mona.

Mona, the canine companion of nursing student Maggie Leptrone, was honored by university administrators for being alongside the student in classes and labs, serving in an unique role as Leptrone’s caretaker.

Leptrone, 23, has Type 1 diabetes and brought home Mona, a labradoodle, five years ago from Diabetic Alert Dogs of America, a program that aims to train dogs to detect changes in a person’s blood sugar level. While some researchers and dog owners have questioned the effectiveness of such canine training, Leptrone is a believer. She credits Mona with saving her life a couple of years ago by awakening her when her blood sugar level was dangerously low.

“She’s been a lifesaver,” Leptrone said during an interview Monday. “She’s prevented serious lows and serious highs.”

Mona’s presence on campus was initially disconcerting for some professors, who did not understand why the labradoodle was around. Leptrone explained her medical condition and how the dog is trained to help her. Mona soon became the big dog on campus. Leptrone said some students would approach her, just to say hello to Mona.

Leptrone was unaware of the university’s plans when she arrived at Saturday’s commencement. Mona received a cap, but brushed it aside. Leptrone walked across the stage to receive her degree. The university printed a “bark-chelor of science in nursing” for Mona.

Leptrone, who said she plans to work at Wellstar Douglas Hospital in the intensive care unit, hopes to bring Mona with her. For now, she’s grateful for the way the university celebrated Mona.

“I’m just hoping that it shows other people like me who have a service dog that they can still obtain a high level of education and do what they’ve always dreamed of doing with their lives,” she said.

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