- Associated Press - Thursday, July 3, 2014

POWELL, Wyo. (AP) - The reality of epilepsy forced Susan Rand to live a secluded life. For years, she rarely went to a public place alone.

“I would never go to the grocery store by myself. I would never wander away from my husband or daughter or son when we’d go somewhere,” Rand said. “Because if something happened, people want to help, but there’s really nothing they can do.”

Rand knows she just has to let a seizure run its course. But in a public place, people around her would panic or call an ambulance if she had a seizure, not knowing she has epilepsy and seizures are a part of her life.

Rand spent long days at home, unable to do what she once loved.

“Before, I was so independent. I could take the world on,” she said. “Once this hit, it was like, nope. I can’t do it. I’m going to hide away.”

Then a dog named Jasmine came along.

Through Canine Assistants, Jasmine is trained for seizure response, guiding, hearing, service and emotional support.

She doesn’t let Rand hide away.

“You have to take her out, you have to take her for a walk,” Rand said. “She makes you go back out into the world, into the public.”

Jasmine is “kind of like a spokesperson,” Rand said. She wears a vest identifying her as a service dog so that if Rand begins to have a seizure in public, people know it’s because of epilepsy. Jasmine stays by her side through it all, and can even let Rand know when a seizure is coming.

Dogs cannot be trained to alert for seizures, but Jasmine quickly picked up on it, Rand said.

“When we got her, there was no guarantee that she would alert,” she said. “We had hoped, but there was no guarantee.”

Shortly after Rand got Jasmine in the spring of 2013, she alerted her to a seizure while Rand was at the Powell hospital. As they sat in a waiting room, Jasmine became very antsy.

“She just would not settle. I couldn’t get her to lay down or sit down,” Rand recalled. “She kept trying to climb on my lap.”

Finally, after failed attempts to get Jasmine to calm down, Rand decided to just lie down on a nearby bench.

“Jasmine jumped on top of the bench, climbed on top of me, and within five minutes, I had a seizure,” Rand said.

If a seizure happens at night, Jasmine will climb up on the bed between Rand and her husband, Chuck. Jasmine stays close to Rand until she wakes up from the seizure.

The dog has become Rand’s constant shadow.

“She’ll follow me,” Rand said.

Jasmine even sleeps on the bathroom floor when Rand showers.

Jasmine has been alerting Rand to seizures more than half the time.

“But even over half is great because before I never had any notice a seizure was coming … she is our only warning - our ‘Here it comes,’” Rand said.

She usually gives Rand about an alert about 10 minutes before a seizure comes, letting her lie down and get somewhere safe.

“She’s just amazing,” Rand said. “Absolutely amazing.”

Rand had epilepsy when she was younger, and then it went away for a while. About 10 years ago, it came back.

“It came back full force,” she said.

Medication helped for a while, but then stopped working.

She underwent surgery to put in a nerve simulator.

“We were hoping that would help, but it didn’t stop them,” she said.

More than five years ago, someone told her about service dogs, and Rand started looking into Canine Assistants, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia.

“Something about them just felt right,” Rand said.

Since its inception in 1991, Canine Assistants has placed more than 1,500 service dogs across America. The dogs are primarily trained to provide assistance for people who have mobility difficulties, seizures and diabetes.

Rand applied for a service dog, did an interview and was placed on a waiting list, knowing it could be years before she was paired with a dog.

Then she waited. And waited.

“After that many years, you kind of start thinking it’s not going to happen. You stop anticipating you’ll ever get that call,” Rand said. “When the call came through that we were picked from the waiting list, I couldn’t stop crying. I cried hysterically for the longest time.”

In February 2013 - after five years of waiting - Rand and her husband traveled to Georgia. She went through a “pretty intense” program with Canine Assistants, covering everything she would need to know before bringing a dog home.

Jasmine, who is three-quarters golden retriever and one-quarter lab, started training as a service dog when she was just a puppy. When she was nearly 2, she was ready for a home.

People don’t get to choose their dogs.

“The dog picks you,” Rand said.

Rand was taken into a room where trainers would bring in a few different dogs, one at a time. Trainers watched dogs interact with Rand.

“They would sense which dog was going to be the best one for you,” Rand said.

Jasmine chose Rand right away.

“The first time I met her, she was just crazy. She was all over me,” Rand said.

Since then, Jasmine has rarely left her side.

Training through Canine Assistants costs roughly $22,000 per dog.

“There’s no way we could have afforded it,” Rand said.

Members of the Eastern Star in Powell and across Wyoming raised thousands of dollars toward Jasmine’s training and placement with Rand.

“I am so grateful to the Eastern Star for raising the money,” she said.

Rand is also grateful for donations from Jerry and Deb Bank, who own McDonald’s in Cody and Powell.

Canine Assistants creates sponsorships to cover the medical, food and training costs for the life of every dog placed.

Jasmine is trained to assist Rand in a variety of ways.

“She can open the refrigerator door, she can open up the French doors to come in the house, she’ll go get your shoes and socks, turn on and off the light switch, get a bottle of water, get a cellphone, get a bottle of pills,” Rand said. “She won’t chew on it. She’ll put it in her mouth and bring it to me.”

As part of her training, Jasmine is used to being in a variety of public places - stores, restaurants, even aquariums and airplanes.

“It’s amazing the things they teach them,” Rand said.

At McDonald’s in Powell during the interview with the Tribune, Jasmine seemed completely uninterested in people or food around her.

“They taught her to go underneath the table,” Rand explained. “When we go out for dinner, she’ll find her spot and stay there until we’re done eating. She won’t get up.

“She likes to take naps, so that’s a good thing.”

When Jasmine is wearing her vest, she is at work and acts differently.

It’s important for people in the community to refrain from petting her and giving her attention.

“If she gets too much petting, then she doesn’t listen to me. It’s like, ‘Oh, they want to play with me,’” Rand said.

Many people are understanding and respectful, she said.

At home, Jasmine doesn’t have to wear her vest.

“When we’re at home and she doesn’t have this on, she’ll still alert, but she’s still a dog, too,” Rand said.

Jasmine loves to run around and play with the Rand family’s other dogs.

“I like that for her. I know she’s a work dog, but I also want her to have that free time for herself,” Rand said.

Since getting Jasmine last year, Rand has returned to the lifestyle she once knew. She goes to the grocery store, works part-time at Powell Veterinary Clinic and even returned to horseback riding.

Rand always had horses and used to ride all the time. When she started having epileptic seizures, she had to quit.

“I couldn’t ride anymore. I hadn’t ridden for 10 years,” Rand said.

During a horse ride, Jasmine is tethered nearby. Rand doesn’t want to risk Jasmine getting kicked by a horse.

Rand would never ride alone, so her husband or someone else remains nearby. And of course, so does Jasmine.

“She lays down and watches. She just stays right there with us,” Rand said.

Rand recalled a trip to Jackson when they rode a tram and played in the snow. Jasmine brings out the kid in Rand, and gives her the confidence to return to an active, independent life.

Unlike medication or a surgery, an assistance dog actually helped Rand change her entire lifestyle.

“She takes on the world of what I used to do. I follow with her,” Rand said.

Together, they have been doing fundraisers for Canine Assistants. Last summer, Rand and Jasmine did a fun run in Red Lodge, Montana, and also wrapped books at Barnes and Noble as a way to give back. Jasmine and Rand also have been visiting the Powell Valley Care Center.

“I never realized just how much enjoyment she gives to them also,” Rand said.

After more than a year with Jasmine, Rand said she “cannot see my life without Jasmine.”

“My life before Jasmine just seemed like a shell, now she has filled it up,” Rand said.


Information from: Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, https://www.powelltribune.com

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