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Service Dog Keeps Child Safe

By Michele C. Hollow for Pet News and Views

Imagine how scared Destiny O’Brien’s parents were when they witnessed their child’s first seizure. At age 6, Destiny was diagnosed with Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that effects children ages 6 to puberty.

Destiny and her best pal Salsa.

Tests from Destiny’s first hospital visit showed that she had multiple seizures. The severity varies from simple to violent. Destiny was having both. After her diagnosis, she was on a lot of medications.

Her mom works in a school right next door to Destiny’s elementary school in Tennessee. “I was afraid to leave her alone,” says Rachel, Destiny’s mom. “The seizures happen suddenly.”

Destiny, now age 11, has friends who come over to her house. Her parents understandably don’t want to leave her with people who won’t know how to react to her seizures. Over the course of the last 5 years, Destiny has had a series of seizures. She spent two weeks in the hospital where doctors removed four inches of her brain, a small part of her skull, and put in six clamps, which will eventually come out. The clamps are helping to reform her brain.

When Destiny was first admitted, her doctor suggested she get put on a list for a therapy dog. It took 5 years, and now Salsa, a 2-year old Golden Retriever is always at Destiny’s side. “Salsa is my SBFFE,” says Destiny, which her mom translated to: ‘Super Best Friend Forever and Ever.'”

Training Service Dogs
Salsa was trained by Meghan Hopkins, who works with Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs for people with physical disabilities and seizure disorders. “We start training the dogs from the time they are a few days old and they graduate when they are between 18 months and 2 years of age,” says Meghan.

Meghan, a former school teacher, explains, “Destiny’s service dog, Salsa, was born and raised at our facilities in Milton, GA. She was trained to help people with physical disabilities and seizure disorders so she learned how to do things such as picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, and going to get help. When Destiny has a seizure, Salsa can go get Destiny’s mom. She can bring her medication or the phone and will lay next to Destiny. Salsa has also begun to alert Destiny to her seizures about 15 minutes before she seizes. This isn’t something we can train the dogs to do; we aren’t even really sure what they are picking up on. It could be a sense of smell but we can’t guarantee that the dogs will do this.”

Detecting Seizures before they Occur
Shortly after Salsa came to live with Destiny, she woke up the entire house around 1 a.m. “Salsa sleeps in Destiny’s room,” says Rachel. “She was acting strange, jumping on and off the bed. We let her out because we thought she needed the potty. That wasn’t it. She just kept on jumping on and off the bed. Finally, she got tired of us not knowing what she wanted to tell us, and she jumped on the bed and lay across Destiny. Then Destiny said, ‘Mom, I think I’m going to have a seizure.’ I rushed and got her medicine, and she was fine.”

Since Salsa has entered Destiny’s life, Destiny takes less meds and has had fewer seizures. Her parents hope that she grows out of this entirely. Some children with this rare form of epilepsy do grow out of it when they reach early adulthood. Her parents don’t know what the future holds, but they are a lot calmer having Salsa around.

Service Dog Goes to School
Salsa sits quietly at Destiny’s side at school. When she is working the other children in the class leave her alone. “We let people play with her during play dates at our home,” says Rachel. “In school, she is working, and shouldn’t be a distraction.”

However, one day at school, Salsa acted out of the ordinary. She left Destiny’s side and lay across the teacher’s legs. Salsa didn’t want to leave the teacher. Later that day, the teacher had her first seizure. “I got a call from the teacher’s husband, and he said his wife had a seizure, and that Salsa picked up on it,” says Rachel.

Love at First Sight
Destiny, her parents, and her 9-year old brother, Devon, got to meet Salsa a few weeks before she came to live with them. “Destiny and Salsa seemed to have an instant connection,” says Meghan. “Destiny came to one of our training camps where she worked with a few different dogs. Salsa pretty much picked her out; they loved each other right away! The camp is 10 days long and the recipients are matched with their new dogs on the second day. We teach them our training methodology and show them how to get the dogs to work for them.”

Destiny always loved animals. Her family owns 5 horses, 3 cats, and another dog.

68 comments to Service Dog Keeps Child Safe

  • Dorothy Dotson

    It is really fascinating that a dog can recognize that a seizure is coming so far in advance.

  • It truly is. I am looking forward to watching the documentary on PBS this Wednesday.

  • Joey A.

    Amazing story!

  • Connee Robertson

    Would love to read more stories like this! We all need to know the importance of our animal friends and the gifts that they have been given that we do not possess. Thank God that some people have seen this and learned to utilize it for human concerns. We may find out so much more in the future if we do not slaughter all of these sentient beings into oblivion.

  • What a wonderful story about the companionship, love and cooperation we share with our Best Friends!

  • Claudia Hendrikz

    Fascinating and absolutely wonderful! More stories plz!

  • How wonderful, Michele! Stories like this one remind me how important dogs are in way I cannot even imagine. Thank you for such a great article!

  • Ande Frayser

    Thank you for this wonderful story. In a land where animals are viewed as disposable, this story helps to put the real value of animals in perspective. How many “Salsas” have been murdered in kill shelters when they could have been helping to enrich and even save the lives of people like Destiny? Thank you for honoring this beautiful life guardian with this story.

  • It’s always fascinating to me what dogs will pick up on. My dog gets nervous and paces around sometimes for seemingly no reason. It makes me wonder if he knows something that I don’t.

  • Peggy

    Wow!!! This is what we need to hear more about in this world of ours!! This should also go on Brian Williams NBC “People (and in this case pets) Making A Difference”.
    My own son has a seizure disorder and I spent MANY a sleepless night by his bed in fear of a seizure. A Salsa would have made all the difference in our lives when my son was younger.

  • This is a moving example of the amazing connections that can develop between pets and people. Thank you for this story!

  • Erica Bennett

    Wonderful and very heart warming story. It’s such an amazing thing and such a need for therapy dogs.

  • caroline koczurcnrsviggo@aol.com

    What a fabulous story I have children and dogs love them all I feel animals are very underestimated

  • This was a great story as a dog lover and and belief in their protectiveness I was sooo happy I have children and have always had more then one dog at a time they are wonderful creatures

  • Just knowing a dog can do this amazes me. It’s remarkable. We think humans are the most intelligent species, but we can’t predict a seizure.

  • Hi Peggy, I’m not familiar with People Making A Difference on NBC. I will check it out. Thanks!

  • Chris

    What a lovely story! Those Goldens are some amazing dogs, says the proud dog mom of one. 🙂

    Great reporting, Michele.

  • Elisabeth

    What a beautiful and amazing story! More people should know about service dogs – Salsa has made such a huge positive impact on this family’s life.

  • I have always felt that dogs have a “sixth sense”. Just another reason why they are so special and appreciated. Interesting indeed!

  • Ela

    What a wonderful story. It’s just a shame she had to wait five years and that there apparently aren’t enough service dogs for everyone!

  • Ellen Kintzing

    Great story! It is amazing, remarkable, fascinating, warming, wonderful and so much more to describe what animals-(service dogs in this case), can do. It stories like this that bring to light just what they are capable of, and should not be taken for granted. We need more stories like this to be main stream. As a person growing up with a childhood friend who suffered from grand-mal seizures and feeling totally helpless at times-I know how much this dog is loved and appreciated by this child and her family. Good work to all involved !!!

  • Misty

    One way an ordinary person can help with dogs like these is to take them as puppies and help them with their initial training so they can go on to help people like Destiny.

  • Alyssa

    Wonderful story. Great to hear lovable goldens are making a difference in a child’s life!

  • Kathie

    What a great story – I have read about service dogs sensing oncoming seizures and I’m always amazed hearing it again in a new story. Animals are meant to be in our lives and I am so grateful for mine.

  • What an incredibly touching post, Michele. I think you are doing such a great service to humanity (and dogmanity and catmanity and animalmanity) with your vision and foresight. Keep the amazing posts coming. Have you ever thought of writing a book? I think it would be incredible to have a collection of stories like the ones you post here to read in the subway or on a plane, for instance…

  • What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Dogs are so insightful especially with a little bit of training. I hope the program where Salsa came from can continue its wonderful work to help more people like Destiny.

  • What an amazing story! I love everything about it, but particularly the fact that Salsa’s help has allowed Destiny to cut down on her medications — medicine is marvelous and often necessary, but if you can get to a point where you need less of it, fantastic.

  • Val

    What a marvelous story! There is nothing quite like a bond between human and dog.

  • Jeanne Brockelman

    What a wonderful tribute to the canine world. So many are put to death and don’t get a chance or are mistreated to extreme. I thank you for shedding light on these wonderful animals. How many others could be helping people. God Bless You

  • Lorraine

    yet another reminder of how wonderful our K9 pals are! and a beauteous story of the relationship between destiny and salsa. brava to destiny facing her day-to-day struggles so gracefully.

  • Kessie

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful & uplifting story about a young girl and her sevice dog, Salsa. Though not a sevice dog, my brother’s golden lab knew when his wife was about to have an epileptic seizure. She would stay by her side, never leaving it until she regained conscienceness. Just goes to show you that dogs truly are woMAN’s best friend! T

  • I can attest, personally, as to how wonderful these dogs and all dogs can be. I have a wonderful English Springer Spaniel named Cookie. She has been with me since she was 11 weeks old. She is now almost 10 years old and a few years ago I was hospitalized with sever liver failure. The doctors were very suprised I survived. For more then a month Cookie lived with my cousin until I was well enough to care for her. When she returned home she became like velcro, never leaving my side.

    She taught herself to be my service dog. She tells me what time to take my medications, when it was time to eat and when to go to bed. I would have minor seizures and she would lay across me and after they were over lick my face to bring me back. She and I would walk as therapy and if I became overtired she’d lead me back home… no sniffing along the way… all business.

    I was never able to find someone to license her as my service dog because they did not train her from a puppy. But, there is a connection between long time owners and their dogs and this bond is very strong.

    Cookie is forever my heart dog.

  • Marie

    Amazing to hear about how we can positively interact with animals. Can’t get enough of stories like these!

  • I find it very interesting that Salsa can predict seizures in other people, too. What a great dog!

  • Charlotte

    It was the part about Salsa picking up on the teacher’s seizure that really gave me chills. There are so many things in this life that we simply don’t understand. Love the photo of the girl and Salsa as well. These types of stories could make a really powerful book…..


  • ErinS

    Salsa is an amazing dog…great story!

  • Sheryl

    I’ve loved learning about inspiring animals like Salsa ever since childhood when my grandmother would share the stories she collected with us grandchildren. This type of story isn’t just heart warming or sentimental, it demonstrates the value of the inter-species connection.

  • jackie herships

    Michele: Thanks so much for sharing such valuable information. You are helping many people. All the best, Jackie

  • I truly believe there is a strong inter-species connection–especially when I talk to so many people who do rescue and training work.

  • Robin Patric

    Michele, what a story! Salsa is an incredible being. How fascinating to find out that smell could be the trigger for her to detect seizures.

  • What a story and how needed these days. Michele, you have hit a much needed chord in the relationship between two of God’s favorite creations…

  • Great story – people take dogs for granted, perhaps because they are so familiar to us but this is yet another example of how intelligent and amazing these animals are.

  • Wow. I’m nearly speechless. What an incredible dog and a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes. Of course, I never underestimate the magnificence of a dog…or any animal for that matter.

  • Add warm blessings to the families who foster service dogs for many months, training them, caring for them, loving them, and then watching them walk out of their lives. As a twice-failed foster mom (adopting the foster shelter dogs instead of helping them become adopted), I have much admiration for these special trainers and their families who make stories like these possible.

  • Erika Kotite

    Being a new dog owner myself, I am delighted to know that my Old English Sheepdog’s innate intelligence is not the illusion of his besotted owner. Thanks for posting such a tremendous story.

  • Suzanne

    What an amazing story! My daughter does not have seizures, but she does have Asperger’s. This story made me wonder how pets might be able to help children with other disabilities, and assist them to function in the classroom and at home. It sounds like Salsa is helping Destiny have a much more independent life, not so completely reliant on her parents to monitor her. An amazing service to the whole family.
    Thanks for tracking this down and sharing it, Michele!

  • Thanks Suzanne, There are service dogs for children with different forms of Asperger’s/Autism.

  • Thanks Anna, I would have a hard time letting go too. Sounds like another good idea for a story.

  • Cheryl Ross

    I think Salsa is a fantastic animal and that little girl is so very lucky!

  • My mother, myself, two of my sisters and an aunt all had or have epilepsy. Mine was petite mal epilepsy which I grew out of when I was 11 years old, thankfully. My aunt has it the worst, she has suffered from grand mal seizures her entire life. She probably could have used a “Salsa” in her life.

    Dogs never cease to amaze me, they seem to have a 7th sense, “at least” one more than us!

  • What a wonderful story. Dogs will never cease to amaze me. I’m so happy for Destiny that she has a wonderful companion in Salsa to help her with her seizures, and that she’s come to know at an early age how special our canine friends are.

    And, Michele, please keep up the fantastic work on your blog!

  • Jean

    Truly amazing creatures! Great story! There’s no telling what man’s best friend can do!
    Thanks for the story.

  • Dogs can apparently be trained to smell out cancerous growths as well!

  • Jim, Dogs (and cats) are amazing, and I do think they are more empathetic than us. I didn’t know you had epilepsy. Glad you grew out of it.

  • Sharon Waldrop

    In many ways dogs are more sensitive than people and this story is a perfect example! I’m not a big TV fan, but will watch the documentary tomorrow night. Thank you for the heads up.

  • I’m not a big TV fan either, but I definitely will watch.

  • Thank you for the inspiring story, Michele. Police & military service dogs perhaps receive more media coverage of their deserving heroism, and it’s enlightening to read about the quiet heroes like “Salsa,” who immeasurably protect and improve human life.

  • Jade

    Service dogs make it possible for people to live with their disabilities in ways that would not otherwise be possible. I know – I have a medical alert dog like this one, a little Terrier rescued from an abusive situation who just happens to be able to key on my medical condition. I couldn’t live the life I do if it weren’t for her!

  • Carol Handras

    What a wonderful story!

  • What a wonderful story! We are so blessed to have companion animals that pick up on our emotions and our physicalities; almost like having a canine radar system. I hope Destiny outgrows her seisures in time, but that Salsa’s love and devotion remain a lifetime.

    God bless you all. Pauline (UK) who has feline purr-atherapy at my fingertips.

  • I got chills when Salsa lay across the teachers legs – her skills are incredible, and her desire to help is so touching. I will try to catch the show.

  • amalia haddad

    beautifully told and heart warming story. no wonder they are called “mans best friend”.
    dogs are now commonly used in hospitals to assist patients in rehab and their recovery.

  • Linda Moran

    I read in usa today that there was a special on tv on Wed.night, apr 21 at 8pm about the therapy dogs for children with cerebal palsy, etc. Will it be on again? My grandcchildren and I wanted to see it but missed it.

  • Hi Linda,
    It was a good special, and sometimes PBS does re-broadcast its shows. I asked my contact, and they don’t know when it will air again. I do believe there is a book coming out called “Through A Dog’s Eyes.” It will cover therapy dogs.

  • […] Service Dog Keeps Child Safe « Pet News and Views […]

  • This might help but he might astound you when the baby comes. But then again every dog is different. I have introduced my 2 puppies to infants and young children since they were pups and they do get excited in the beginning. But they finally calm down and when I tell either my dog to back off they do. It is funny how they know to be gentle. I noticed with infants and other kids that my dogs tend to become more protective of them and will lay down and keep and eye on them. Good luck!

  • Wow, good post. I am interested in how pets can help children. Thanks!

  • Service dogs are awesome animals. They prove that dogs are so much more than just a pet.

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