Seizure sniffing dogs improve the quality of life for children by giving them increased independence and new-found confidence. At an organization named 4 Paws For Ability, canines are trained to care for children with disabilities and help transform lives. These service dogs are taught to bark when they “smell” a seizure coming which alerts the adult(s) to give the child their medication.
Karen Shirk, founder of 4 Paws For Ability, credits a service dog for having saved her life. Having returning home after having heart surgery, a deadly combination of medicine rendered Shirk barely conscious and struggling to maintain life. The phone begin to ring, but she could not move to answer it. Ben, a service dog, finally snagged the phone, placed it at her side and began barking profusely. The person on the other end of the phone was Shirk’s father; he rushed over to the house in time for Shirk to receive the help she needed.
As a result of the service dog Ben, Shirk founded the non-profit organization. The mission of 4 Paws For Ability is to place quality service canines with children and veterans with disabilities, help with animal rescue and provide education to the public on the proper use of service dogs in public places. Shirk said she is alive today because of one, and in turn wants to offer this service to others.
The 4 Paws For Ability organization is one of the few agencies that aims to meet the needs of children with seizures. Many agencies refuse to work with children, especially young ones. At 4 Paws there is no minimum age restriction because they believe fully in early intervention. This means they train a dog that is unique in how it works with each child. There are two types of service dogs that assist with seizure disorders: Seizure Alert and Seizure response. At 4 Paws, the canines are Seizure Assistance Dogs which fall under the category of Seizure Alert.
Alyssa, an 11-year-old girl from Los Angeles, was only four when she lost her sight and began having up to 20 seizures daily. Three years ago, Alyssa received a service dog named Flint. This dog changed the little girl’s life; Flint alerts the family when a seizure is forthcoming and protects Alyssa from falling. The service dog has given her extra freedom which she may not have known otherwise and has become an essential part of her life. Juliette Palomaki, Alyssa’s mother, said:
Flint gives her a companion to enjoy the moments when she is doing things she likes to do, and if she is having a bad day, she will call him and they will just be together.
Alyssa’s grandmother used to have to be with her through the night in case a seizure occurred. Now, Flint has taken over care for Alyssa around the clock; no caretaker needs to keep watch over her during the night. When Flint smells a seizure coming he immediately tends to Alyssa by licking her face, lying on her and barking. Palomaki said when the family hears Flint barking they know exactly what to do because this is the only time the service dog barks. She added:
The two of them have become a dynamic duo.
Brandon McMillan, well-known animal behaviorist, does not feel life should be so complicated for such young children. However, when a child is found in such a situation, the best thing to do is to give them a dog. McMillan believes dogs have the ability to open up a child’s world in a way that is important for their life and well-being.
Scientists believe, although they do not agree on the explanation, dogs have the ability to smell a chemical change when a seizure is on the horizon. At 4 Paws For Ability, the canines are trained to bark when they detect the chemical change in order to alert the caretaker of the child that medication is needed.
Breeding or training service dogs for seizures is not cheap. It costs the organization $22,000 for each canine; out of this amount the family is expected to raise $15,000. Families which have experienced the benefits believe the monetary amount does not compare to the value the service dog brings to their child. The seizure sniffing dog has been known to improve the quality of life for children by giving them increased independence and a heightened sense of confidence. Anyone interested in making a donation to 4 Paws For Ability can do so on their website.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
4 Paws For Ability: Seizure Assistance Dog
Charleston Daily Mail: Seizure-detecting dogs give kids normalcy
Tech Times: Specially Trained Dogs Can Now Sniff Out Seizures
Top Image Courtesy of Heartlover1717 – Flickr License
Other Images Courtesy 4 Paws For Ability