There are actually two stories in one for this article. The first is how 13 year old Antonio Reese came to have epilepsy. The second is how Alice, his service dog, came to become an important part of the family and a critical part of Antonio’s life. We hear about drive by shootings all the time. We watch them on TV and in movies. But there is a harsh reality in real life, a reality that Antonio continues to deal with to this day. Four years ago he was shot in the back of the head in a drive by shooting, and that resulted in him being in a coma for more than two weeks. Antonio would come back from that coma, but as a result he continues to suffer from epileptic seizures. He has undergone 5 brain surgeries to deal with the trauma he suffered back in 2015. The answer to allowing Antonio to live as normal a life as possible was to get him a service dog.
Not any kind of service dog but one that can sense an epileptic seizure up to one hour before it actually happens. There will be more on these special types of dogs in a bit, but Antonio finally was able to have his own, a dog named Alice. Getting Alice was no simple feat. His mother was unable to afford Alice right away, so she did everything from having bake sales to getting people in the community involved to raise the necessary money. It wasn’t just about getting the dog but meeting the ownership requirements, one of which was to have a fenced-in enclosure for Alice to romp. The efforts paved the way for Antonio to finally get Alice, a dog who has been nominated for the 2019 American Hero Dog award.
Alice has never missed alerting Antonio to an oncoming seizure. It has been said that Antonio’s disability is an invisible one since seeing him and Alice together, most people will simply see a boy and his dog. The value of Alice cannot be understated because like Antonio’s disability, her ability to sense when a seizure is imminent is just as invisible.
Therein lies the mystery of the seizure alert dogs. Scientists cannot specifically identify how it is that a seizure alert dog, which is different from a seizure response dog, is able to detect the oncoming seizure. Two possibilities that have been set forth are: 1) the dog is able to detect specific behavioral changes in the person, and 2) that there is a biochemical component that the dog can sense changing through their sense of smell in the person to alert them. Not every dog has this apparently innate sense, which makes Alice unique in a number of ways.
But having this special sense is not enough to qualify a dog to serve as an epilepsy alert dog. They must be trained, and according to the web site K9s for Life, the dogs must be able to do the following:
- Display alert behaviors before a seizure occurs
- Remain close to its owner during a seizure to prevent injuries
- Alert a caretaker, family member or emergency response system
- Fetch a telephone, alert device, or medication
- Open a door or turn on a light
Just browsing this short list of requirements makes every seizure alert dog very special. Not only will the dog alert the person, but will alert others or stay with them until the help needed arrives. If the person is carrying a smartphone, the dog may actually be able to call for help. All of this is more than amazing. The training takes about two years, and there is an additional two weeks or more to get the person and the dog comfortable with one another. A relationship is established and grows over time, so the dog becomes more aware of the silent communication methods needed to be a very personalized seizure alert dog. In Antonio’s case, Alice will be a lifelong partner and always will be at his side.
As for the award, it is an annual award formally called The American Humane Hero Dog Award. Yes, there is a web site for the organization and you are able to vote for your personal favorite by going to the web site. Alice is one of 7 finalists. You can read about the stories behind each dog and how they managed to become finalists. There are a number of interesting, yet tragic, realities to this story. The first and most obvious is what happened to Antonio who can be said to simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Next is the result of the tragedy, which left him in a coma and required multiple brain surgeries for the traumatic brain injury suffered. The role of modern medicine and technology in this story cannot be overlooked. And give a huge amount of credit to Antonio and his family who did not give up but summoned their personal strength to get through the ordeal.
Finding and being able to afford Alice was another aspect of the story. While being able to properly care for a special animal is a necessity, it costs money not only to get the dog but to keep her in top shape physically and mentally. The details about the limitations of Antonio’s day-to-day life are unknown, but it is certain that life would be far different without the presence of Alice. Learning about epilepsy alert service dogs is something everyone should have benefited from. There are an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States that suffer from some form of epilepsy; 65 million worldwide. Not everyone can afford a dog like Alice, but there are many people who may not be aware of this special type of dog who can. This story is about tragedy, survival, and appreciating man’s best friend.