26th August was National Dog Day. Below is a tribute to man’s best friend.
Note: This is a work of fiction, as are the names and associations mentioned in the story.
Tammy Davis was, in every way, a fun-loving nine year-old girl. She went to a local primary school and separated her time between, family, friends and schoolwork. Only thing was, she suffered from Grand Mal seizures and had been diagnosed at the age of two as epileptic.
Medication helped, but her parents worried that a seizure could occur at any time and in a place they were unable to control, leading to the need for an emergency ambulance, hospitalisation, or worse. Julia Davis, Tammy’s Mum, explains;
Tammy’s my only daughter, and as a mother I can’t help but be concerned that her exposure to sunlight could cause an epileptic fit at a time when my husband and I are not there for her. She’s so good at school and no-one would know what she has to endure every day. She has EEG’s (electro-encephalograms), sees a wonderful neurologist, and I couldn’t love her more. But she needed more support. I never imagined that would come in the form of a dog.
Julia was referring to Scallywag, the three year-old Golden Labrador who won’t leave Tammy’s side. Julia says that anyone who loves dogs could not help but stop and give Scallywag a pat. “She is as cute as a button.” But Scallywag is more than just a pet. She is an assistance dog, trained to warn Tammy’s family or teacher that a seizure is imminent.
Labradors are one of the very few breeds of dog that potentially have the ability to warn of the likely onset of a seizure prior to it occurring. Labradors are the most popular breed of dog amongst Australians, according to the Australian Pet Association (APA). They put this down to their “loving, companionate nature, their way with children, their friendly personality and their natural instinct to guard against danger.” They can sense whether a stranger is ‘friend or foul’ and will always put the welfare of their family first.
The Australian Assistance Dog Association (AADA) trains Labradors like Scallywag specifically for this purpose. Only a small minority of dogs are able to finish the course successfully. Gail Hardy, of the AADA, says;
We don’t know why Labradors in particular have such an understanding of seizures and their onset. What we do know is they have an extreme sense of smell and although further research is required, it is possible they can sense a change in the scent of their human companion prior to the seizure occurring. Labradors have a strong sense of companionate love for their owner(s), and this level of unconditional commitment and their naturally friendly persona makes them the perfect dog to train.
Scallywag was the 55th Labrador Gail’s organisation had trained for the purpose of assisting a child with special needs. She tries to keep in touch with some of the families she has helped and receives letters of thanks in return. The testimonial page on her organisation’s website attests to this.
Scallywag will stand over Tammy during a seizure in order to protect her from harm. ‘Scally,’ as Tammy calls her, cannot stop a seizure from occurring, but the knowledge that she is Tammy’s protector has made Tammy feel safer away from home, given her added confidence, not to mention the relief felt by her parents.
Scallywag is wagging her tail as I walk through the front door of the Davis’ home. I give Scally a pat and rough her up a little. The smile on her face is infectious. To think a dog can assist not only in protecting a lovely girl like Tammy and make her life that little bit easier, but can also provide the love one can only receive from a pet, is truly something to be cherished.
Tammy’s mum bends down to give Scally a kiss on the head – once a dog-lover always a dog-lover.
I am so pleased that Gail was able to assist us and provide Tammy and our family with such a wonderful pet and protector. Her seizures continue but she knows when she looks up, Scallywag will be there for her. I hope other families are able to make use of the AADA. Gail’s team has given our family a new lease on life.
If you need a service dog and don’t know where to start, the following associations may be able to assist (Australia only);