When 53-year-old Lori Eagen starts having a seizure, her golden retriever can sense it.
Tober lets out a sudden, sharp bark. He lies by Eagen until her husband or someone else comes and helps.
In his olive-coloured service dog vest, Tober transforms into a kind of four-legged superhero.
“He is truly a great godsend, what he has done for me,” Eagen said.
He can fetch Eagen’s phone and get the mail without leaving behind too much drool. He can help her balance and can open doors and flip light switches on and off with his snout.
He does not bark at cats or chase squirrels. He stays quiet, focused and calm around the creatures that normally send dogs into a frenzy.
For nearly a decade before Tober became a part of Eagen’s life, the Kissimmee woman dealt with a brain aneurysm and had undergone seven major surgeries.
She was often afraid to go out alone, fearing something would happen. She had to stop working as a nurse, which was difficult for her.
Now Tober, who will be four-years-old in May, goes everywhere with Eagen, walking next to her with a bouncy gait that earned him the nickname Prancer.
Having Tober around gives her much more freedom. She takes him to church, to restaurants and on airplanes, where he curls up at her feet.
“It gives her some mobility to go do things that she has not been able to do before,” said her husband, Ralph Eagen. “She can go out with Tober and she can go anywhere.”
Tober was born May 29, 2011, at Canine Assistants, a non-profit organisation in Milton, Georgia, about 35 miles north of Atlanta.
All seven puppies in his litter had calendar-themed names: June, Summer, Tuesday and so on. He was given the name October, shortened to Tober.
Like the other puppies at Canine Assistants, Tober was exposed to humans at a very young age, said Jennifer Arnold, the organisation’s founder and executive director.
By three weeks, they start to become reliant on people, and by five weeks they start getting exposed to the outside world, Arnold said.
“Our goal is to develop the puppies’ understanding that people are good, (develop) trust in people and trust in themselves,” Arnold said.
During the next year, instructors taught Tober different behaviors, such as how to work a light switch.
But their main goal was to make him feel confident and loved around humans, so he could really connect with his future owner, Arnold said.
“Behaviour is a byproduct of the bond,” Arnold said. “The focus is developing the bond and developing the absolute conviction that they are fabulous.”
A few studies during the past decade show that it’s unlikely dogs can sense seizures before they begin. But after a seizure has started, the dogs can be a comforting presence.
Nor does the ability to respond to seizures seem to be learned behaviour, Arnold said.
The leading theory on how dogs detect when someone is having a seizure, she said, is that human body chemistry changes in the early stages of a seizure, and dogs can smell the sudden shift.
“What is absolutely fascinating to me is not that they can tell that it’s coming, but that they feel compelled to share that information with somebody that they love. Because we don’t teach them to do that,” Arnold said. “Their depth of caring for human beings is just amazing to me.”
Lori Eagen found out about her aneurysm on her seventh wedding anniversary: Dec. 18, 2002.
She was in a doctor’s office for what she suspected was a blood clot in her leg and mentioned that she was having issues with memory, headaches and sensitivity to light.
The doctor ordered a CAT scan, then an MRI. Three weeks later, in January 2003, she had her first major surgery.
The following years were difficult. Eagen does not remember years of her life, from about 2004 to 2006.
“I’m thankful to be alive, though,” she said. “That I am. That I am.”
Eagen’s neurologist suggested she apply for a service dog.
In July 2012, Eagen and her husband visited Georgia, where they met Tober and went through a two-week training camp with him.
Canine Assistants provided the airline tickets to Georgia and a hotel room nearby and did not charge them for the adoption.
Eagen focused on getting to know Tober.
“We bonded quickly, but I was always a dog person,” she said.
Despite his work ethic, Tober can act like any other retriever.
He sometimes sneaks his favourite blue bouncy balls in his mouth when Eagen takes him out, loves playing catch and will try to dig up the Eagens’ backyard if left unattended.
“He’s just wonderful,” Eagen said. “He’s just been, in my words, a true hero, to do everything with me.” – The Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service
Fact: The leading theory on how dogs detect when someone is having a seizure is that human body chemistry changes in the early stages of a seizure, and dogs can smell the sudden shift.