Ch. Kasan Airborne Ranger

Seizure Alerts

by Nik Rapelje, Ranger's owner

Ranger came into my life on December 12, an 8-week old bundle of energy and kisses. His breeder had told me that he was a very special pup - bright and confident, friendly, very attentive, and handsome. I wasn't feeling well, so we spent a lot of time that first week doing what he loved best - snuggling, cuddling and kissing.

A week after Ranger's arrival, my life turned upside-down when I had a seizure. It's pretty scary when you can't control your own body. I felt like I was in a bad dream that I couldn't wake up from, and my right side shook uncontrollably. I was at home when it happened, sitting on the couch, so Ranger ran to me and licked my face the entire time. Just having him there made me feel better.

I started having as many as five seizures a day. If I was at home, Ranger would come running, then cuddle with me while I was seizing. I started going to doctors, and they ran countless tests trying to find the cause. I learned that my seizures were a kind known as partial complex seizures, but we couldn't figure out what was causing them. I wasn't allowed to drive, and I was too scared to go out much anyway. I took sick leave from work, and just stayed home. The worst part was that I couldn't tell when a seizure was coming, and I was scared to do much because of that. Ranger and I spent a lot of time cuddling on the couch. This went on for several days before I noticed what Ranger was doing.

Nik & Ranger, cuddling the day after he arrived (12/13/01)
Ranger & Nik, cuddling the day after he arrived
December 13, 2001
Ranger was a very smart puppy, and housetraining and basic manners were easy for him. He was generally well-behaved, but sometimes he would come up to me and just start barking and whining. I thought he was just being rambunctious, so I ignored it the first few times. Then, thankfully, something in Ranger's attitude made me realize that he was trying to tell me something, and I figured out what was going on. Somehow, Ranger could tell when I was going to have a seizure several minutes before it happened. His barking and whining was his way of telling me about it. The next time Ranger started barking at me, I praised him and put a handful of treats in my right hand. When I started seizing a few moments later, the treats shook out. Ranger gobbled up his reward and started licking my face. That was a huge turning point for me. If I could tell when a seizure was going to happen before it occurred, then I didn't have to be scared anymore.

Over the next few days, Ranger became very proficient at detecting an oncoming seizure. I kept a jar of treats by the couch, so when he would bark at me, I would get a handful of treats and then lie down on the couch. I don't know which one Ranger liked more - the treats, or the opportunity to give me a thorough face-washing. Because Ranger alerted me several minutes before a seizure was about to happen, I learned to recognize the mild headache and odd sensation that preceded a seizure. After a few more days at home, I was confident enough to go back to work. I still couldn't drive or do other activities, but I could at least get on with my life. I wished Ranger could go with me as a seizure alert dog, but he just wasn't old enough to be in public that much yet. If I was home, though, he was at my side the entire time, always ready to let me know what was going on.

I learned that a seizure alert dog works by smelling the chemical change in a person that precedes a seizure. Besides having an acute sense of smell, the dog also has to have the empathy and intelligence to express that something is wrong. Ranger has those qualities. He has several siblings who are guide dogs for the blind, so it's not surprising that he has the characteristics of a good service dog.

By mid-January, the doctors found an anti-seizure medication that helped, and my seizures became less frequent. I started training Ranger in tracking, what I had originally purchased him for, and started showing him. I don't know if he missed doing seizure alerts or not, and we still spent lots of time cuddling. The doctors figured out the cause of my seizures, severe hyper-thyroidism, at the beginning in April, and put me on a medication that stopped the seizures.

I had a summer internship in Denver, so Ranger and I went to Colorado for the summer. My apartment didn't allow pets, so Ranger stayed at a friend's house a few hours away. I picked him up on weekends when I could; we did a lot of hiking and mountain biking, and went to several dog shows. Ranger did really well at the shows, and continued earning points towards his AKC championship. He even won back-to-back majors.

Nik & Ranger at the peak  of Uncompaghre, July 6, 2002
Nik & Ranger at the peak of Uncompaghre
July 6, 2002
Buckhorn Valley KC, 8/10/02

Buckhorn Valley KC, Best of Variety for a 5-point major win from Judge Pat Hastings -- with Kelly Roche, who took Ranger in the ring when Nik had a seizure
August 10, 2002
We didn't see each other for nearly six weeks - I started having seizures again, and didn't feel comfortable driving the six hours round-trip to go see him. Finally, in mid-August, a friend drove me to get him. It had been over six months since the last time Ranger had seen me have a seizure, so I was sure he had forgotten about alerting me. I didn't think it mattered anyway -- my new anti-seizure medication seemed to be working, and I thought the seizures were over. Ranger was entered in a dog show that weekend; in spite of the hot weather, we went to the show.

Ranger and I got ready to show, and we were at ringside waiting to go in. Then, a few minutes before it was our turn to go in the ring, he started barking and whining. I thought he was responding to a nearby bitch in heat, and didn't think much of it. I had a headache and didn't feel well, but attributed it to the heat. We went in the ring for our class, but Ranger just kept barking. Then I noticed that my right hand was starting to shake. Ranger had been trying to alert me to a seizure.

Ranger won his class, and I stumbled out of the ring. I barely made it to a seat, and I managed to ask a friend to take Ranger in for the Best of Variety class. I gave Ranger a treat before the full seizure hit me and I passed out. His job of alerting me over, Ranger quieted down and licked my face, then trotted away with my friend. When I came to a few minutes later, Ranger was in the ring, looking handsome and immensely proud of himself. I watched, amazed, as the judge pulled him from the puppy class and placed him Best of Variety. He beat 6 class dogs and 4 specials, winning a 5-point major. What impressed me the most, though, was that he had recognized an oncoming seizure and alerted me to it - in spite of the busy ringside atmosphere and not seeing a seizure in over seven months.

Ranger finished his conformation championship the next weekend, then our summer in Colorado was over and we came back to Texas. I had a thyroidectomy on September 25; appropriately, one day after Ranger's first birthday. The seizure at the dog show was the last one I ever had. Ranger and I are training in obedience and agility now, and hope to do more training in tracking and herding. We still spend a lot of time, cuddling, too. Like his breeder told me, Ranger is a very special dog.

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