Of Dogs and Angels
By Roger Caras
During my years in animal welfare work – I served as the president of the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – I have heard
wonderful stories about the power of the human-animal bond. One of my
favorites is about a girl and her very special dog.
When the girl was born, her parents were stationed with the U.S. Army overseas. The tiny baby spiked a fever of 106 degrees and when they couldn't help her at the military base, the baby and her family were flown home to the United States where she could receive the proper medical care.
The alarming fever kept recurring, but the baby survived. When the episode was over, the child was left with thirteen different seizure causes, including epilepsy. She had what was called multiple seizure syndrome and had several seizures every day. Sometimes she stopped breathing.
As a result, the little girl could never be left alone. She grew to be a teenager and if her mother had to go out, her father or brothers had to accompany her everywhere, including to the bathroom, which was awkward for everyone involved. But the risk of leaving her alone was too great and so, for lack of a better solution, things went on in this way for years.
The girl and her family lived near a town where there was a penitentiary for women. One of the programs there was a dog-training program. The inmates were taught how to train dogs to foster a sense of competence, as well as to develop a job skill for the time when they left the prison. Although most of the women had serious criminal backgrounds, many made excellent dog trainers and often trained service dogs for the handicapped while serving their time.
The girl's mother read about this program and contacted the penitentiary to see if there was anything they could do for her daughter. They had no idea how to train a dog to help a person in the girl's condition, but her family decided that a companion animal would be good for the girl, as she had limited social opportunities and they felt she would enjoy a dog's company.
The girl chose a random-bred dog named Queenie and together with the women at the prison, trained her to be an obedient pet.
But Queenie had other plans. She became a "seizure-alert" dog, letting the girl know when a seizure was coming on, so that the girl could be ready for it.
I heard about Queenie's amazing abilities and went to visit the girl's family and meet Queenie. At one point during my visit, Queenie became agitated and took the girl's wrist in her mouth and started pulling her towards the living room couch. Her mother said, "Go on now. Listen to what Queenie's telling you."
The girl went to the couch, curled up in a fetal position, facing the back of the couch and within moments started to seize. The dog jumped on the couch and wedged herself between the back of the couch and the front of the girl's body, placing her ear in front of the girl's mouth. Her family was used to this performance, but I watched in open-mouthed astonishment as the girl finished seizing and Queenie relaxed with her on the couch, wagging her tail and looking for all the world like an ordinary dog, playing with her mistress.
Then the girl and her dog went to the girl's bedroom as her parents and I went to the kitchen for coffee. A little while later, Queenie came barreling down the hallway, barking. She did a U-turn in the kitchen and then went racing back to the girl's room.
"She's having a seizure," the mother told me. The girl's father got up, in what seemed to me a casual manner for someone whose daughter often stopped breathing, and walked back to the bedroom after Queenie.
My concern must have been evident on my face because the girl's mother smiled and said, "I know what you're thinking, but you see, that's not the bark Queenie uses when my daughter stops breathing."
I shook my head in amazement. Queenie, the self-taught angel, proved to me once again how utterly foolish it is to suppose that animals don't think or can't communicate.