Seizure-Sensing Dogs Help Patients Cope

strassmann dogs epilepsy
Mako is more than Eli Zabawa's new Golden Retriever. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports that Mako's leash is now Eli's lifeline.

The 11-year-old has muscular dystrophy and epileptic seizures that his parents say scare him.

"He doesn't want to be left alone," said his mother, Nicole.

"Right," said his father, Sean. "He wants to have someone there."

That's where Mako comes in -- and a non-profit group outside Atlanta called Canine Assistants. It raises puppies, then turns them into seizure response dogs.

The dogs learn tasks like turning lights on and off. They also fetch medication, stand guard and even bark for help.

Canine Assistants donates 40 trained dogs a year to seizure patients. Sponsors pay the tab: more than $18,000 per dog.

Most remarkably, these dogs may actually predict a seizure's about to happen.

Jennifer Arnold, the founder of Canine Assistants, says this canine intuition is undeniable.

"Dogs definitely can anticipate the onset of seizures," she said. "About 88 percent of the dogs we place develop the ability to anticipate onset, within the first year after placement."

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No one knows how these dogs sense it and some seizure experts scoff at the very idea of it. But hundreds of people who have seizures say their dog's intuition is both real and lifesaving."

At 14, Mitch Petersen went from an athlete to someone with no control of his body.

"I've fallen down flights of stairs. I've broken bones under my face," he said.

Since Mitch got London two years, the dog has sensed his seizures at least a half dozen times, and pushed him down to safety.

"When I would try to get up, he would still force me to sit down," Petersen said.

At 22, Mitch now works in a library and lives on his own -- unthinkable before London.

And Mitch's mother, Vanya, is so grateful.

"I see him with London and London has given him a whole new life," she said.

The Zabawas know Mako comes with no guarantees.

But they now sense a new life for Eli.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.