A piece from the AP tells the story of Alyssa Howes’ journey from losing her sight at four to developing a seizure condition. She would suffer up to twenty a day, forcing family members to stand watch with her at night.
Then came Flint. A golden retriever seizure service dog, he is Alyssa’s passport to normalcy. Trained to alert family members prior to seizures, he helps guide the now 11-year old Alyssa and prevents her from falling.
Plus, he’s a golden retriever. It’s nearly impossible to find a better friend.
Alyssa’s story is heartwarming. It has the happy ending we all like to see in our news. But, it exposes a gap in service dog availability. Children.
There’s simply not enough service dogs being trained to help children deal with disabilities such as epilepsy and autism. In fact, most training centers require the person to be 16. Why? For most centers, it’s an age they feel comfortable letting a minor handle the dog alone in public.
For kids like Alyssa, hope comes from non-profits like 4 Paws for Ability, an Ohio-based service dog training complex, which helps trains two adults on handling the service dog.
4 Paws lists the countless abilities of their seizure service dogs:
- Provide a measure of comfort for the child
- Provide a distraction during unpleasant medical procedures, such as blood tests
- Be used during a therapy session to enlist the child’s participation
It can mean the ability to finally sleep alone and engaging in activities their seizures used to prevent.
Outside of the immediate medical benefit service dogs represents, the animals offer emotional benefits. Kids with disabilities often get left behind by their peers or have intense difficulties making new friends.
What does a service dog do other than protect their charge? It serves as an icebreaker You’re not going to find many kids on a playground who don’t want to pet the smiling golden retriever as he leads the way.
Instead of avoiding the child with disabilities, they come up to pet the dog and learn about the person instead of avoiding. It is the purest form of win-win.
Take Alyssa. She can bring Flint to a park or restaurant. It breaks down the walls separating her from her peers. New friends learn a valuable lesson in accepting others, and Alyssa avoids the feeling of isolation.
Seizure Service Dogs
The early warning the dogs offer is thanks to a keen sense of smell. The beasts smell a chemical change when a seizure is about to occur. How? Scientists can’t agree on one explanation.
4 Paws trains their dogs to bark as a warning. It allows the parent or caregiver to administer any medications to prevent or lessen the impact of the seizure.
Cost plays an important role in training. 4 Paws charges $22,000 to breed and train. The non-profit asks each family to raise $15,000 towards the training program.
Where do we go from here? More service dogs for kids. Too many centers have the minimum age at 16. Follow 4 Paws’ initiative and start training animals for younger kids.
Disabilities never pick an arbitrary age. Neither should the treatment options available.