girl from Mill Creek overcomes epilepsy with help from canine companion | New

MILL STREAM – When 14-year-old Julia Mickle was diagnosed with epilepsy in November 2018, she and her parents began a journey of treatment options to control her seizures. Of all the drugs, it turns out that a dog named Zoe can be the best of all.

Zoe, a 2 year old yellow Labrador, is a specially trained medical alert dog. The dog is one of many trained by Eyes Ears Nose & Paws of Chapel Hill, an organization that trains service dogs for people with various ailments and mobility issues.

Julia said she received Zoe in May after going through a careful screening and matching process at the facility.

“My doctor recommended a service dog for me,” said Julia. “My mother found EENP and contacted them.

Julia and her family visited the facility in early spring to meet the dogs preparing to complete their training. After several more meetings, in which EENP staff observed potential clients and dogs, Zoe was selected for the teenager.

Once the two were paired up, EENP staff began intensive training sessions with Julia and Zoe so the teenager could learn how to handle the dog and what to expect from her new canine companion.

“When she feels that I’m about to have a seizure, she hits me in the nose to alert me,” Julia said in October. “I can go to a quiet place and she will lie on top of me until I come out of the seizure.” It helps me relax.

Zoe is also trained to get help if the crisis is particularly severe.

For Julia, the dog provided an added sense of security.

“It means the world to me,” she said. “It makes me feel so much more secure.”

Her mother, Mandy Thompson, said the dog also brought her comfort.

“It means a lot more peace,” Ms. Thompson said. “Before, I was even afraid to let (Julia) go out without me being with her. It gives me confidence and peace to know that Zoe is with her.

Those interested in obtaining a medical assistance dog should first obtain a referral from a medical professional. Once this is established, the research can begin.






Zoe, a medical alert dog owned by Julia Mickle 14 of Mill Creek, is in a training session with her owner in October. The service dog is trained to help Julia when she is having seizures. (Photo by Cheryl Burke)


However, trained medical alert dogs can be an expensive endeavor. For EENP, the cost of a dog like Zoe is $ 20,000.

Ms Thompson said her family was eligible for a grant program, which covered 75% of the cost.

“We have raised funds for the remaining cost,” Ms. Thompson said.

While $ 20,000 seems like a lot, Maria Ikenberry, executive director of EENP, said it costs a lot more to train dogs.

“It costs around $ 50,000 to raise and train a medical assistance dog,” Ms. Ikenberry said.

For the EENP’s medical alert dogs, Ms Ikenberry said training begins a few days after a puppy is born. In addition, the dogs are specially bred for service.

“We start doing exercises with them a few days after they are born and then at eight weeks they leave the litter and go to a volunteer,” she said. “The main focus of the first three to six months is socialization, basic obedience and household skills.”

After this period, the dogs go to a correctional center, where they are matched with inmates who have completed medical alert training.

“We have many experienced trainers in the program,” Ms. Ikenberry said.

Dogs remain in the prison program for at least one year. They are removed one week per month so that EENP staff can check the progress of the elite dogs.

Once the animals have completed this part of their education, they are handed over to staff members, who complete the final phase of training each dog until they are matched with a client. Ms Ikenberry said each dog is carefully matched after the potential owner goes through an application and selection process, which includes interviews and letters of reference.

“If we think we can do a successful placement, the client is put on our waiting list,” she said. “Once the client gets to the top of the list, they come in and meet the dogs that come for graduation. “

During the meeting, Ms Ikenberry said her staff took videos and observed interactions between potential owners and the dogs.

“The clients work with the dogs for about two weeks and then we pair them up. We are looking for the connection, the way the customers play and interact with the dogs. We are also monitoring to see which dog goes to which client, ”she said.






Mill Creek girl overcomes epilepsy with help from canine companion

This vest, worn by Zoe, a medical alert dog owned by Julia Mickle 14, of Mill Creek, identifies the dog as an assistance dog at work. The public should never pet a service dog without first seeking permission from the owner. (Photo by Cheryl Burke)


After that, Ms Ikenberry said the next phase is to see how the paired pair interact during training. If successful, the two graduates as a team. Once the dog goes to its new owner, he continues his training over the next year.

Julia said that she and Zoe always go to Chapel Hill for training sessions and that she should continue working on it at home and while she walks with her dog. Some of their workouts in public had unexpected results. For example, Zoe is not only trained to detect seizures, but also other illnesses like diabetes.

“One time we were out and she alerted about a diabetic woman and her blood sugar had gone down,” Ms. Thompson said.

Julia wears a special card and Zoe wears a vest that identifies her as a medical alert dog. Julia said it is important for the public and business owners to understand the protocol for assistance dogs.

“We should be allowed in business and when she goes out with me she is working,” Julia said. “The public should ask before petting a service dog. Zoe is allowed to be petted by people, but people should ask first.

Ms Thompson agreed, stressing that it is essential for Zoe to focus on her daughter.

“When Julia is having a rough day, Zoe will keep her eyes especially focused on Julia. We know the difference when Zoe is playful and when she senses something wrong,” Ms. Thompson said.

She added that if someone sees a dog on medical alert on their own and tries to get someone’s attention, follow the dog as they are trying to alert someone that their owner is in distress.

“They are trained to go get help and have someone follow them to their owner,” Ms. Thompson said.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; send an email to [email protected]; or follow us on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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