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Daughter suffering with autism and epilepsy regularly inconvenienced by unknowing security guards and over-eager dog lovers

Although cute and cuddly, temptation must be resisted when encountering these very serious professionals.

More than a pet and bordering on a paramedic, man’s best friend can often be a lifesaver. Medical service dogs are de facto medical professionals that come with warning harnesses, IDs matching them to their handlers, and explicit instructions not to tamper or get in the way of their work.

Dominique Swiegers is a 17-year-old sufferer of autism and epilepsy, and while grateful to have her new medical service Labrador, members of the public create stressful situations for both of them.

Delta-Dawn, Dominique’s personal rescue dog, is a multi-purpose dog trained in various tasks, including seizure response. Delta-Dawn can perform deep pressure therapy on her handler’s chest, alerts Dominique when she is having an absence seizure, can fetch medication in an emergency, and can even press a bell that rings the phone of Dominique’s mother, Tereza, when she is not home.
Taking Delta-Dawn everywhere she goes, the adorable-looking Labrador has become quite the eye-catcher at Dominique’s side. Unfortunately, many are unable to resist the urge to want to pet or play with Delta-Dawn, causing the autistic young lady unnecessary and unwanted attention. Additionally, security guards at shopping centres regularly cause a scene by trying to remove the animal, much to the consternation of both the mother and daughter.

Obtaining a service dog is no simple task, as highlighted by Lucy Breytenbach, canine behaviour practitioner at Honey’s Garden, where Delta-Dawn graduated from on May 6.

Service dogs can take up to two and half years to train and are not limited to Labradors. “We have a Zero to Hero programme which takes rescue dogs from shelters and tests them for service dog work, so we have a real mixed bag of doggos,” Lucy said. The potential service dogs are trained in daily public access, disability-specific tasks, as well as obedience and life skills before a three-month trial and finally matching them to a family.

The handler and service dog are inseparable and Lucy advises everyone to be mindful, saying, “Admire service dogs from afar and do not ask their owners too many personal questions. Rather do some research and look at our info, should you wish to know more.”

 

Source: roodepoortrecord.co.za, Jarryd Westerdale

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