Every aspect of Sally’s life has been dictated by her epilepsy, which began when she was a child.
Sally, of Worksop, experiences a very high number of seizures – at least four or five during the day, every day, and as many as 19 each night.
“Life was difficult growing up and my epilepsy had a huge impact on my entire family,” she said.
“I could never be left alone, I couldn’t go to school, and making friends or meeting new people was difficult. My mum and dad had to do everything for me. I was trapped and often felt very lonely.”
She was 28 when she thought she had come to the end of the line. She had just undergone an intrusive and potentially dangerous brain surgery procedure that she hoped would end her seizures. It proved unsuccessful and made no positive impact on her health. While coming to terms with this, she read an article about Support Dogs in an Epilepsy Society magazine.
Sally said: “At first I was very sceptical of the idea of a seizure alert dog, but then I saw Support Dogs had an Open Day coming up, and I thought ‘why not?’ as nothing else had worked for me.
“When my husband Philip and I first came to Support Dogs, and they said they could train a dog to predict my seizures, I think I laughed. Then I met a lady who had a seizure alert dog and I was amazed as I watched her dog alert her. It was enabling her to go somewhere private and have relative control of her seizures in safety. I signed up on to the waiting list on the spot.”
That was over 13 years ago and Sally is now benefiting from life with Robbie, her second seizure alert dog and enjoying a partnership with Star, her first seizure alert dog of 11 years.
Sally tells us: “Having a seizure alert dog instantly made my life liveable; things are so different now. One of the first things I did when I got 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!
“I then went in to town on my own – again a lifetime first!
“I could go outside, I could make dinner, I could be left alone. Star would always warn me one hour before a seizure, so I could finish what I was doing, and get somewhere safe in plenty of time. It was amazing.”
The Star launched its Pounds For Pups campaign last month, to raise £5,000 to fund one dog’s training. Hundreds of people, all across the UK, have already have benefited from a trained assistance dog in the 25 years since Support Dogs launched in the city.
Through its three training programmes – for disability support dogs, autism dogs and seizure alert dogs – the charity uses a reward-based system to teach dogs to carry out a wide range of tasks that make life safer and easier for its clients.
Of her second seizure alert dog, Robbie, Sally added: “I can’t believe how good he is. Having him in my life means that, once again, I can get out and about, away from the house. When I am out it is reassuring to know that Robbie will give me a 100 per cent reliable 50-minute warning prior to every oncoming seizure I have. So that’s plenty of time to get somewhere safe.
“This incredible improvement in my quality of life in terms of reducing the stress of an unpredictable seizure striking at any moment has, I believe, also helped to reduce the number of seizures I experience each day.
“But as most people linked with Support Dogs know, these dogs do more than break down the barriers erected by illness or a deteriorating condition. 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. I can do the ironing again now – though not many people think that’s much of a bonus!”
– Visit Support Dogs, donate to find out more about how you can help us reach our £5,000 goal. Alternatively, text SDogs15 (and the amount you’d like to give) to 70070, or call 0114 2617800.