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A woman's best friend: How the support of her 'alert dogs' has helped lady enduring around 25 seizures a day to lead a life of independence

Written by Samantha Lade, Donr

Published on Wednesday, 20th December 2017

A woman's best friend: How the support of her 'alert dogs' has helped lady enduring around 25 epileptic seizures a day lead a new life of independence

Written by ##author:samanthalade## for DonateToday

PUBLISHED: ##published## | UPDATED: ##updated##

The incredible Robbie can provide Sally (both pictured) with a 100% reliable, 50-minute warning of an epileptic seizure

Sally's epilepsy began in her childhood. But thanks to the help of Support Dogs, she has been granted a new life of independence which enables her to perform basic actions alone – such as making her first cup of tea in over 30 years.

No Control

As an overwhelming condition affecting the neurons of the brain, epilepsy is far more common than many may think. In fact, the NHS estimate that one in every 100 people is affected by the disorder in some form or another.

But for Sally – who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a young child – the condition is totally all-consuming, controlling every single aspect of her life.

For as long as she can remember, Sally has endured at least four to five seizures each day. Not only this – but she can also experience up to 19 seizures at night.

Dealing with this made life growing up incredibly difficult for both her, and those around her. ‘I could never be left alone,’ shares Sally, speaking to Support Dogs online. ‘I had to be home taught, and making friends or meeting new people was difficult. I often felt very lonely.’

Everyday life remained challenging for Sally for years – until she came across the opportunity to undergo a dangerous brain surgery procedure that could potentially end her seizures altogether. 

"Making friends or meeting new people was difficult. I often felt very lonely."

- Sally

With her childhood sweetheart and husband Philip by her side, a 28-year-old Sally went into the operation hopeful and positive. But unfortunately, the procedure was unsuccessful.

Unable to leave the house alone for fear of what may happen, she began to feel as though she'd come to the end of the line.

A Helping Hound

But soon after, Sally came across Support Dogs in an Epilepsy Society magazine, a charity who train and support assistance dogs for people with epilepsy, autism and disabilities. 

Although sceptical at first, Sally met with a lady with epilepsy who informed her a seizure alert dog could deliver a 100% reliable alert – 50 minutes before a convulsion even happened.

Only certain breeds have the traits, nature and instinctual drives to train as a support dog

This gave the owner plenty of time to get to a place of safety and privacy – allowing her to gain an element of control over her condition.

Sally immediately signed up to the waiting list. Today, over 13 years later, she is now enjoying life with her second support dog Robbie, after relishing a life-changing 11 years with her first dog Star.

Owning a support dog has transformed daily life massively for Sally, allowing her to perform tasks that would seem trivial to many of us. 

‘One of the first things I did when I first had Star was to make myself a cup of tea, something I had not been able to do in 30 years because of the risks of having a seizure when holding boiling water,' Sally explains. 

"Without a dog, people tend to look right through you if you have a disability."

- Sally

'I then went into town on my own - a lifetime first. Having a seizure alert dog instantly made my life liveable. I can’t believe how good he is. This incredible improvement in the quality of my life has also helped to reduce the number of seizures I experience each day.’

A New Lease of Life

Support Dogs' life-changing work comes at a tall price, as each assistant dog is estimated to cost the charity over £30,000 to fund across its lifetime.

Yet, it is clear the partnership, compassion and loyalty provided by the Support Dogs’ assistance is invaluable to the lives of hundreds who've lost independence as a result of conditions such as epilepsy, autism, and other disabilities.

For Sally, the impact Robbie has on her life extends even beyond her physical needs – to her psychological state and wellbeing.

Dogs for training come from rescue homes, Guide Dogs breeding programmes, and even family homes

‘These dogs do more than break down the barriers erected by illness or a deteriorating condition,’ she explains. ‘Without a dog, people tend to look right through you if you have a disability. You feel ignored quite a lot. 

‘But with Robbie people stop and ask what he does to help me. That gives me a chance to explain how he helps make my life so much more liveable.’