PRINEVILLE, Ore. (AP) — A 6-year-old Prineville boy recently made a long-awaited trip to Ohio with his mom and grandmother to pick up his seizure-alert dog.
Stryder Doescher, 6, his mom, Angela Doescher, and his grandmother, Beverly Doescher, left at the end of January to spend two weeks in Ohio training with Keebler, a nearly 1-year-old golden retriever who's been taught to detect seizures and alert others.
Stryder's parents hope Keebler will also be able to detect the seizures before they happen. He alerts Stryder's parents by either barking or nuzzling Stryder's ear or his feet, Doescher said.
"I did a lot of research, and we're hoping Keebler will be able to not just alert us when Stryder's having a seizure but will also warn us when he's going to," Doescher said. "The trainers say he's got a really good nose. One of the strongest they've ever seen."
In winter 2012 Stryder's parents began fundraising efforts to be able to afford a seizure-alert dog. They reached and surpassed their goal of raising $13,000. Doescher said the family became interested in getting a dog for Stryder when they learned many of his seizures happened at night, and many of them were going undetected. They hope having Keebler will mean the family will be able to tell when the frequency of Stryder's seizures increases and it's time to change his medication, which loses effectiveness over time.
Karen Shirk, founder of the Ohio nonprofit 4Paws for Ability, which trained Keebler, said dogs trained to detect seizures can sense chemical changes in the body in the minutes or hours leading up to a seizure.
"Keebler doesn't just do seizure work," Doescher said. "Stryder also has aneurysms in his heart, and we're hoping Keebler will alert us to that as well."
Stryder has several ailments, including Landau Kleffner syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that, if left unmedicated, can cause seizures to occur as often as every few seconds and can cause permanent brain damage. He also has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes his skin to be very stretchy and makes his joints overly mobile. He's also been diagnosed with speech apraxia, a disorder that meant he didn't begin speaking more than single-syllable words until he was 4, his mom said.
Doescher said the family became interested in getting Stryder a seizure-alert dog when the effectiveness of his medications began to wear off. They wanted the dog to let them know when Stryder is having more seizures so they know it's time to change medications to avoid brain damage.
An event in March 2013 put on by the Prineville Elks Lodge raised nearly all the money in one night.
In all, the family raised $18,000, Doescher said. Keebler ended up costing $15,000, and the other $3,000 paid for travel expenses.
The family left on Jan. 26 to pick up Keebler and train with him, returning home Feb. 9.
"It's going to be a lot of work learning to read the dog and telling him he's doing a good job or giving him treats when he alerts us," Doescher said. "We want Keebler to bark when we're not around, especially at night, so we can hear."
Doescher said Stryder used to sleep on a mattress on the floor of their room, but with Keebler's arrival he's finally able to sleep in his bed in his own room.
Stryder is a kindergartner at Cecil Sly Elementary in Prineville, and for the last two weeks Angela has been going to school with him to train the teachers and other students how to interact with the new addition to their school.
"I've been riding the bus with him and going to school to train the teachers on Keebler's commands," Doescher said. "When they're trained I'll stop going, and it will just be him and Stryder."
She said the kids and teachers have been great with Keebler.
"They always say people aren't supposed to pet a service dog, but in a room full of kindergartners we realize that would be impossible because they're going to want to pet him," Doescher said. "So we have a blue bandanna for Keebler to wear and we've told the kids that when he has that bandanna on they can pet him."
Keebler and Stryder had an instant bond and are inseparable now, Angela said.
"This has all been such a relief," she said. "They really do love each other, and it's really important to have that bond so Keebler will do his job."
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com