Seizure-Alert Dogs Save Humans With Early Warnings

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"I lived as a recluse for almost four years, afraid to go anywhere," said Jacobs.

That all changed when she adopted a seven-week-old puppy, named Patra, from the local animal shelter. The Rottweiler/German shepherd mix canine started alerting about Jacobs' seizures when it was six months old. The dog head-butts Jacobs behind the knees about 20 minutes before a seizure episode. This gives Jacobs time to find a safe place to lay down and wait for the episode to pass, usually within 5 to 15 minutes. During a seizure Patra stays with Jacobs, giving her a sense of confidence and safety.

Jacobs believes Patra picks up a chemical change that occurs in her body. The dog is now six years old, she said, and also alerted Jacobs to her low blood sugar level, migraines and pulmonary heart valve infection.

Just how accurate is Patra's alerting ability?

"It's 100 percent, when I listen," Jacobs says with a laugh.

Thanks to her service dog, Jacobs feels she has been given a second chance at life. She now works as a marketing director for a computer company and is an advocate for people with disabilities.

In 1998, she started Service Dogs Today. The nonprofit organization works on antidiscrimination legislation, promotes service dogs as medically necessary, and encourages individuals to become service dog trainers.

No Guarantees

In the United States there are about 120 service dog training organizations. Fewer than 20 work with seizure assist dogs, according to researcher Deborah Dalziel of Gainesville, Florida, who also co-authored the booklet "Service Dogs For People with Seizure Disorders."

Most trainers will not guarantee that a dog will alert. For that reason, the terms "seizure-response" or "seizure-assist" dog are often used.

Training can take up to two years to complete and can cost between $10,000 and $25,000. Health insurance companies do not cover the cost.

Montana is currently the only state with a Medicaid program that pays for the purchase of a service animal. Some service dog training organizations provide the animals for free or offer financial assistance. For example, the Canine Seizure Assist Society of North Carolina, Inc. based in Mooresville, North Carolina, gives trained seizure assist dogs without charge to qualified applicants.

The requirements to obtain a seizure assist dog vary among training centers but the one constant is the applicant's ability and willingness to give the animal proper care and follow-up training.

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