KERNERSVILLE, N.C. -- Inside the Kernersville Community House, loved ones waited with anticipation.
People rushed to take their places when it was announced the girl of the hour was about to walk through the doors.
Emerie Hilton, 11, was greeted by family and friends screaming “surprise” and “happy birthday.”
“The first thing I thought when I walked in [was] who are these people and why are they here, and then I’m like, ‘Oh, wait,’” Emerie said.
It was a surprise birthday celebration, but that was only part of the surprise.
As Emerie was taken to the front of the crowd, she was welcomed by Bonnie -- her diabetic alert dog.
It was an emotional moment for family and friends when Emerie ran to hug Bonnie.
“It felt like my first best friend ever,” Emerie said.
For Emerie and her family, getting Bonnie represents a new beginning.
“Maybe we’ll be able to sleep through the night, maybe we’ll be able to not have to worry so much,” said Farrah Hilton, Emerie’s mother.
The bond between Emerie and Bonnie was established quickly -- Bonnie alerted Emerie.
“I’ve seen it happen within five minutes of her meeting Emerie, so I know it’s going to work,” said Karen Holder, Emerie’s grandmother.
The Hilton family began their journey of getting a diabetic alert dog for Emerie after she was alerted by a different service dog while visiting a friend.
That family connected Emerie’s family with Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers.
The organization’s training director has been working with Bonnie to prepare her to live with Emerie.
Emerie was not expecting Bonnie until Feb. 23, but SDWR Training Director Cheri Campbell drove overnight to ensure Bonnie was there for the birthday surprise.
“For me, it’s just as rewarding because I’m able to see that stress released from them,” Campbell said.
Campbell will stay with the family for four days to provide additional training.
Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers is based in Virginia, but serves families across the country and in other parts of the world.
Last year, the Hilton family and other supporters began fundraising efforts to raise $25,000 to cover training costs.