Sunday, July 01, 2007

Service dogs for seizures are special dogs!

Luke, a 3-year old European boxer, is a special dog: He’s allowed to walk the Rehoboth Boardwalk any time of year with his owner, Chris Costas. While this contradicts local ordinances - and some locals are all too happy to let him know, Costas said - the Rehoboth Beach Police Department lets Luke follow Costas’ every step. He has to. Without him, Costas could suffer a seizure at any moment.

He suffers from toxoplasmosis, a virus he contracted during an operation. Because of the virus, Costas can have up to two seizures a month, each lasting about an hour and 20 minutes.
With Luke, however, Costas can avoid seizures altogether. About 30 minutes before a seizure, Luke barks at his owner, jumping, pawing, or boxing to get his attention. Costas is then able to take his antiseizure medication and ward off an attack.

For Costas, 41, the disease was utterly debilitating. The seizures were impossible to detect. Though he’s an acclaimed photographer and interior decorator, the virus excluded him from a professional life.

“My right hand would quiver. Other than that, I had no warning,” he said. “And after the seizures my muscles would be so tight, and I’d be so exhausted, that I’d spend two to three days in a hospital.”
He lived this way for 19 years. Then, three years ago, he met Luke.

“I was living in Miami,” Costas said, “and I had no idea that dogs like Luke even existed. My doctor found him. He even bought him and trained him for me. He knew how much my life had changed.”
While many European nations have been using dogs to detect and prevent seizures for more than 25 years, they are still relatively uncommon in the United States. While seeing-eye dogs - often golden retrievers wearing telltale harnesses - hardly raise alarm in restaurants, Luke has no such precedent to work with.

To foster understanding, Costas took a grassroots approach, introducing himself and Luke to business owners and local officials. His efforts have been met with understanding and accommodation for the most part.

Chief Keith Banks of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department has been working with Costas since Luke was first introduced to the area.

“It’s working out well, I think,” he said.

“He hasn’t felt like he’s been having to tell each officer over and over. Education in any type of illness or special need is the best thing. That’s what we’ve been training our officers to know.”
While Costas appreciates the police department’s efforts, not everyone has been so helpful.
“The police have made it so easy for me, so far as the Boardwalk and beach goes,” he said.

“But there have been a couple of restaurants that have denied me access to their facilities.”
As Costas is ready to point out, such discrimination can be met with a heavy fine. While several owners have denied entrance on the basis of allergies, boxers like Luke are hypoallergenic; they have hair, not fur, and cannot provoke any allergic reaction.

“Actually, they were really rude about it,” Costas said.

Other restaurants, like Cloud 9, accept Luke with understanding and hospitality.
“I’m just so grateful that I’m welcome there,” said Costas.

While Luke is Costas’ dog, his services are by no means exclusive. During a visit to Cloud 9, Luke started barking and pawing at a girl on the dance floor. At first, Costas didn’t understand. He pulled Luke away. Minutes later, the girl collapsed and went into convulsions. She was epileptic. Luke was trying to warn her.

Despite difficulties, Costas continues to educate and inform.“I’m out to make friends, not enemies,” Costas said. “But I can’t participate in general life without my assistant. It’s just that he has four legs instead of two.”


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