DARIEN, Conn. -- Lindsey Clark knew a service dog could help her twin 8-year-old boys, both of whom suffer from the epileptic condition Dravet Syndrome.
But after just a few days of bonding with the family’s new golden retriever, Valerii, the Darien mother is astonished at the swiftness and impact the year-old dog is having on her boys.
“She’s already a big part of the family,’’ Clark said from Xenia, Ohio, where she and her boys, Miles and Jeremy, are bonding with Valerii. “It’s amazing how smart they are and how they are so well-trained. What they can accomplish is mind-boggling. I’ve never seen a better behaved dog in my life.”
Clark’s sons were diagnosed with Dravet in 2009. Also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy, or SMEI, Dravet is a rare and catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy. Miles and Jeremy suffer from intense, frequent seizures. They also face behavioral and developmental delays, movement and balance issues, orthopedic conditions, delayed language and speech issues, growth and nutrition issues, and disruptions of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates body temperature and sweating.
Clark learned about the impact of service dogs from Dravet support groups. Two years ago, thanks to the generation of the community, funds were raised to acquire the dog.
The Clarks have been anxiously waiting to meet their pup. “We were chomping at the bit,’’ Lindsey said. “We came out and it has just been heaven.”
Valerii has been trained by Paws 4 Ability , an Ohio-based nonprofit that works with dogs for children with special needs. Valerii will sense and alert parents and caretakers to the boys’ oncoming seizures. She will also provide special companionship for Miles, who also has autism.
The Clarks are spending two weeks in Ohio for intensive training with Valerii, and will return home with them. The Darien Animal Hospital will assist the Clarks with care for the dog, providing shots and annual visits.
Besides helping predict seizures, the dog is also trained in search and rescue. The family has been practicing with the dog in Ohio by hiding the boys and having Valerii find them.
“She can smell the skin cells and track them,’’ Lindsey said. “She’s been doing great with that. She’s also been bonding with the boys. She’ll be able to help with seizures by nuzzling their face to break the behavior. Families have told us it can shorten an hour-long meltdown to a 15-minute meltdown. They can sense them coming for up to an hour beforehand.”
Clark said Valerii is the “calmest dog” in the group among the other families who are also getting their service dogs. She sees improved behavior of her boys already, and for the first time since the seizures started seven years ago, Clark recognizes an improved quality of life for the boys, and her.
“I’m already seeing results, especially with Jeremy,’’ she said. “It’s going to take a little longer with Miles. We went out to dinner and it was so peaceful. That hasn’t happened in a long time. It has been a wonderful change already.”
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