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ImageSafety in Epilepsy: 4Paws for Ability

For this issue of the Northeast Regional Epilepsy Center newsletter, we would like to feature an organization called 4Paws for Ability. This amazing nonprofit organization places service dogs with children who have disabilities and veterans who have unfortunately lost their sense of vision or hearing. 4Paws is also committed to animal rescue, and educates people about service dogs in public places. 4Paws provides service dogs to children with autism, hearing loss and FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders). In addition, they provide individuals with Mobility Assistance Dogs that can help people bound to a wheelchair by performing tasks such as opening doors and retrieving objects for them, as well as Facilitated Guide Dogs that help individuals that are blind or visually impaired.   

Of course, since we were interested in how 4Paws for Ability can help individuals with epilepsy, Sloka Iyengar, PhD talked to Ms. Karen Shirk – the founder of this wonderful institution. 

SI - Thank you so much for providing such a useful service to the epilepsy community. What was your inspiration to start 4Paws for Ability, and how many individuals with epilepsy has 4Paws helped thus far?

KS – I started 4Paws after my service dog Ben saved my life. I was home recovering from an open-heart surgery and was almost unconscious because of the powerful medications.  My father called and I couldn't answer the phone. Ben picked up the receiver and started to bark. My father rushed and gave me the help I needed. I wanted other people in need to have similar help as well, and I came up with the idea of starting 4Paws for Ability. 

I am proud to report that we have been able to provide over 100 individuals with epilepsy in the US and Canada with service dogs. 

SI – How exactly do these dogs help individuals with seizures?

KS – I would like to start by saying that what sets 4Paws apart from other similar organizations is that we do provide service dogs even to very young children. At 4Paws, we do not have any requirement far as age is concerned. 

In general, there are two kinds of service dogs for seizures – seizure alert dogs and seizure response dogs. It is difficult for very young children to go through the intense training required to be paired with a seizure response dogs, so most of our children are given seizure alert dogs. These dogs are trained to detect a seizure and alert the parent by barking. Hence, they provide a level of comfort and safety to the child and parents. For children with frequent seizures (3-4 seizures a month), we can train dogs for seizure response as well. We know that dogs have a much enhanced sense of smell as compared to us, and scientists think that service dogs can smell something we cannot before and during a seizure. 

SI – How can the family of someone with epilepsy go on to get one of these dogs? What is the cost involved. 

KS – While there are other organizations that provide a similar service, not every case is the same. For example, some households may already have another pet for which the child can be turned down for a seizure dog. At 4Paws, we pride ourselves to work very hard to place each child and adult with a service dog by working with them intensively, keeping their specific needs in mind. Training and placing service dogs is not cheap – the cost of training each dog is around $22,000. However, there are agencies that help 4Paws in fundraising. More information about how this is available on our website. Also, we rely on donations, and any amount – big or small – is helpful!

SI – How does the quality of life of someone with epilepsy improve after they've been given a dog?

KS – Parents of children with epilepsy frequently report a reduction in seizure frequency once the child has been paired with his/her service dog. There are many other benefits as well – children with seizures may have problems making friends; when other children, say on a playground,  come to pet the dog, a child with epilepsy has the opportunity to interact with peers. Hence, service dogs help break the ice. Parents also report a reduction in stress levels. Service dogs provide a constant source of encouragement and emotional support, enabling children to perform daily functions and interact with other children. 

Thank you, Karen for taking out the time to talk to us, and for this indispensable service that you provide to the community. 

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