You may find it irresistible to pet any and every dog you see, but service dogs have a very important job, and should never be distracted.
Hailey Ashmore suffers from epilepsy, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, reactive hypoglycemia, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and gastroparesis. In 2014, Hailey was given Flynn, an 11-week-old Australian Shepherd as her service dog.
“To get a service dog you must be disabled to the point where you can no longer function at a normal quality of life without the assistance of service dogs,” explained Hailey.
While she was once a dancer on the varsity drill team, as her health began to deteriorate, her mobility became limited. She was forced to take her classes online, impacting both her social life and mental health. Flynn was brought in to give Hailey the freedom she once had.
It took thousands of dollars and two years of training before Flynn was fully certified as Hailey’s service dog. Hailey worked with Stimming Paws Assistance Dogs, who specialise in this training.
Now, Flynn is able to open doors for her, fetch her parents when she needs them, and most importantly, as a medical alert dog is able to identify and anticipate when Hailey is about to have a seizure, and has been trained to alert her before it happens.
It is because of these responsibilities that it’s crucial Flynn not be distracted from his job, but, unfortunately, some people just can’t resist.
Hailey was at her dad’s work when one of his colleagues approached the dog. At the time, Hailey was 16 and Flynn just seven months old, and still in training.
He was equipped with is requisite service dog vest, which clearly shows that he should not be petted or distracted.
Hailey was quick to tell the man to stop, but Flynn was already distracted.
“Seizure alert service dogs generally have a timeframe between when they alert to when the seizure actually happens,” said Hailey. In Flynn’s case, that timeframe is about ten minutes. During this time, Flynn is able to retrieve her drugs, and help her move to a safe space.
It was while he was distracted by the stranger that the subtle indicators of a seizure began to emerge. As soon as Hailey spoke, and Flynn’s attention was redirected, he began to warn her – but at this point it was too late.
“I am used to him giving me ten minute warnings, so when he alerted that’s what I thought I had. Out of nowhere I remember the world going black. I woke up with Flynn on top of my legs and my father cradling my head.”
As she hit the floor, she received rug burns from the carpet. “On the whole left side of my face there was a terrible sting that made me tear up.”
“My service dog is my lifeline. I don’t say that to be cute. He helps keep me alive just like life support. If he gets distracted this happens.”
“Please do not pet, call, or do anything to distract service dogs without explicit permission from the handler. Next time, instead of a rug burn, somebody could get seriously hurt or die.”