Sebastian the service dog

Photo by Sheltieboy via Flickr

Jennipher Schafer/Staff Writer

My first experience with The Beacon was last semester. I was interviewed about my service dog, Sebastian.  Sebastian is a mystery to most classmates. People often see the stroller covered with a “Nightmare Before Christmas” throw blanket and assume I have a child inside. Sebastian stays in the stroller, quiet and calm unless he is needed. Like people, service animals need to relax and know that they are loved and appreciated.

Sebastian is spoiled some tell me. He has organic food and treats. He gets to go everywhere with me which keeps him happy. He enjoys walking around campus and pawing at my lap while I type up class assignments. He loves being groomed so much that I call his bath days “spa days” instead.

This spoiling on my part is in no small part due to the level of appreciation I have for what he can do for me.

Before Sebastian found his way into my life, I was struggling to get disability benefits while working a job that didn’t pay my bills. I had little warning before my seizures would hit and hours of recovery after. I had been denied three times, which is common for people applying.

When I first got Sebastian, I decided to go back to school just based on the confidence he gave me.  When it was discovered that Sebastian could also detect my seizures, I felt safer as long as he was near.

Up to now, Sebastian has detected about 30 seizures. He has saved my life by alerting me before I went to run an errand.  Collapsing on a busy street while crossing would certainly be undesirable.

I don’t feel guilty for spoiling him. I think he should be rewarded for his skill.

There is no training to be done for a seizure alert companion animal, it is entirely a natural ability.

When he began the behavior, it took his veterinarian, two veterinarian technicians and two dog trainers to convince me it wasn’t a joke.

When we go to the store and see holistic dog treats or nearly anything bacon flavored, I try to get it for him.

Service animals need breaks too. No person would be happy working all day, every day, for their entire life. That is what Sebastian does in every waking moment. He pays attention to me to make sure that my brain isn’t sending out electrical misfires.

While he is with me in class or on an errand, he cannot be disturbed, but when he is on his leash or in my dormitory, he can be himself.

He is free to be the hyper, loving, smart Papillon that he is.  He can be the little guy who’d rather sit in my lap and that’s just fine.

4 Comments on "Sebastian the service dog"

  1. Service dogs must have special training in order to be service dogs. The U.S. Department of Justice says so. They must be trained to do tasks that mitigate a handler’s disability. Also, they should not be riding in strollers.

    • While that is correct for some classifications of service dog, it is not true for all under the Americans with Disabilities Act. When I first realized he was doing something odd I had the behavior verified by his veterinarian, two veterinary technicians, and two licensed dog trainers before getting the prescription for him from my doctor. For many service dogs there are physical demands and they must be larger breeds who can open doors and guide the blind. However, there is a lower rung on the service dog ladder called the companion animal. Companion animals possess skills which are natural talents such as Sebastian’s ability to detect coming seizure activity. There are also companions used for PTSD, anxiety, and extreme depression. There is no formal training for seizure detection animals and it remains a natural born skill not all dogs have. Until the science can figure out precisely how they detect the brain neurological misfires there can be no formal training for these animals despite the genuine service they provide. The stroller was discussed with the animal experts as a way to both keep him safe since he is so small but also to provide him a more narrow focus by removing excessive stimulation from him when he is most needed. Sebastian has detected in-class seizures before. He also alerted me just this Wednesday in time for me to get to my dorm safely before a nasty one hit me leaving my chest in pain afterward. Chest pain after in my experience means that I experienced difficulty breathing during the seizure. While in many cases service dogs require training, for the kind of service Sebastian provides there is no training required or even available. Both at the local state level and the federal level Sebastian is protected as my seizure alert companion animal and by law I can bring him with me anywhere I may need to go. He has come to the emergency room with me as well as restaurants. In most states the only thing needed is a clean bill of health for the animal and a prescription. We have both of these things though since he is not leading a blind person people do tend to question my need of him. I could legally purchase a harness for him but his safety and concentration are important to me as well. I am looking into a special tag to purchase for his stroller. Until then I carry the prescription with me at all times along with emergency instructions in a waterproof bag in my purse. I hope I’ve put your concern to rest.

  2. There is no training for seizure alert companion animals. Companion animals are the lowest ranked service animal but they are still covered by both the Americans with Disabilities Act and local laws. With the verification of his ability by his veterinarian, two veterinary technicians, and two dog trainers I obtained the prescription from my doctor. According to the law he is a fully certified companion animal with the prescription to back it up. For many higher ranked service dogs there is extensive training. For that you are right. However, companion animals still considered service animals are covered for conditions like mine. The highest rank is a service dog and the lower ranked are companions for various conditions. Some people have therapy dogs for mental conditions as well such as anxiety or depression. Service dogs are usually larger and can open doors using special handles or guide the blind. Companion animals either have a skill not attainable with training or give comfort to those who need it the most including returning soldiers with PTSD. There are no limitations on companion animal size or breed since their skills are not as physically demanding. There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to service dogs. Still, Wednesday Sebastian got another alert on him as I made it safely to my dorm on time before I seized so bad my chest hurt after indicating I had labored breathing during the episode. Even I had no idea before I spoke to the animal experts that what he was doing was a service/companion skill. Until they figure out how the dogs know when a seizure is coming there is no formal training that can help other dogs do the same job. That means the rank will stay at companion but still be under the service dog umbrella.

  3. Hello! I also have a service dog to help with depression (although I do not require him to be with me during school), and I was wondering if I could start bringing him with me to FIU? I stay until late and it saddens me to have to leave him at home for all that time… What has your overall experience been with bringing your dog to school?

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