The Service of Peace

photo by Charlotte Howe
photo by Charlotte Howe

After dealing with intractable seizures since the age of 11, I looked into getting a service dog for comfort, care and especially greater independence since I was 27 years old. Online, I came across a breeder in Oklahoma City that breeds labradoodles for a service/therapy dog organization called Paws with a Cause. Instantly, I had my heart set on getting a female dog, which I would name Shiloh.

My parents and I made a trip to Oklahoma City to find her. Being a dog lover, it was so exciting to be around a new litter of precious puppies! Trying to pick just the right puppy was hard because if possible, I would have taken all of them home. As I was trying to pick the best female, a roly-poly male kept sitting in my lap, licking me as I was trying to check out some of the other pups. He wouldn’t give in and insisted on having my full attention. As they say, “you don’t pick the dog, they pick you.” I fell in love with Shiloh even though he was male. When he was eight weeks old, we drove back to Oklahoma to pick him up and bring him home, and he officially became a Texan!

Paws with a Cause uses Labradoodles and Labradors because of their intelligence and trainability, and interestingly enough, about 40 to 60% of these dogs are able to detect various medical issues related to their owners. Since Oklahoma City was too far for me to commute to their dog training school, I took a chance and brought Shiloh home to bond with me and become familiar with my seizure activity. He needed to get to know how I acted before, during, and after having a seizure.

Before he was old enough to be trained, I was walking down the street with Shiloh in our neighborhood. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground! I had a seizure and was lying down on the edge of a neighbor’s yard. When I became conscious and realized the leash was no longer in my hand, my first thought was “where is my puppy?” I turned my head to the right and there he was, calmly lying down between me and the road. That convinced me he was just what I hoped he would be.

When he was old enough for formal training, Shiloh and I started working one-on-one with an experienced trainer who worked primarily with therapy dogs. Actually, I was probably harder to train than Shiloh because my consistency was essential to his obedience. After basic puppy training, she helped me discover some ways he could alert me before a seizure, such as pawing me, continually standing, looking straight into my eyes or following me everywhere. Part of the training took place at Starbucks, which included staying focused on me and not being distracted by the other people around us. I was able to put him in “place” and go get my coffee, while he kept his eyes on me. When he had his “service dog in training” vest on, that was his only job. Starbucks was not his only outing. During training, we walked many grocery aisles, made trips to shops and socialized with other dogs and people of all ages. He was always the favorite at my doctor’s office in Little Rock. The receptionist gave him dog treats every time I had an appointment and one time she called out “Shiloh” instead of my name when it was time for me to be seen.

On one occasion while at the coffee shop, I became frustrated because he was getting up and pawing me, repeatedly. I thought he was being disobedient, but the trainer told me it looked like a warning signal and I needed to pay attention to that. Honestly, I kind of ignored her, because I had felt fine throughout that day. However, not long after I made it home, I had a seizure and before the seizure he would not leave my side. Was he able to stop the seizure? No, but as I began to clue into his behavior, I was able to adjust my schedule and take it easy on days when I was more susceptible to auras and seizures.

His presence is comforting and gives me a greater feeling of safety and peace. It was not just me. He became a regular part of a team that went into The Women’s Recovery Center. The ladies went to worship, have bible study and pray with residents, but Shiloh had his own unique assignment. He was there to be adored and loved, and he gave them the same comfort and delight he gave me. I noticed he always seemed aware when someone was troubled and would walk over to be near them in case they needed a lick or a soft nose in their lap.

For a little over two years now, I have been seizure free. I am on three seizure medications, but occasionally, I still experience brief auras. He remains right there with me. His outgoing personality, loving heart and those precious brown eyes always bring joy to me and the people who are a part of his circle. The meaning of the name Shiloh is “peace” and that definitely fits his demeanor. Shiloh is much more than a service dog, he is one of my best friends, part of my family and an important part of my life.


 

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