A Bond of Love: A Woman and Her Seizure Alert Dog
One afternoon while watching her favorite TV show, Unsolved Mysteries, an answer popped out. The episode featured a girl with epilepsy, like her, who used a service dog to stay safe in exactly the types of situations Candice feared.
Using the Internet, she located Canine Partners for Life, a national organization based in Cochranville, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1989, the nonprofit group trains service dogs for people with disabilities ranging from arthritis to quadriplegia, charging recipients a fraction of the $22,000 it costs to prepare the animals (donations offset the balance). To date, the organization has placed dogs in 38 states and has a waiting list of six months to two years, although it often takes longer to get a seizure-alert dog because only six out of 25 service animals typically have the talent.
Knowing this, Candice e-mailed her application and prepared for a long wait. To her surprise, trainer Debbie Bauer called just weeks later to say, "We have the dog for you."
Candice made plans to attend a three-week orientation that October and mailed a bundle of her clothing to Chiper -- who was just finishing her own two-year training -- to familiarize the dog with her scent. (As many as 20 percent of the dogs in the program are rescued from shelters and humane associations; Chiper was part of a litter donated by an individual.)
When Candice arrived in Pennsylvania and met Chiper, "I just fell in love," she says. "I couldn't stop scratching her ears. She was the cutest, most beautiful dog ever."
At first there were obstacles. Candice's stubborn streak made it hard to obey a dog. "My mom used to keep after me: 'Are you sure you're not pushing yourself too hard?' and I'd blow her off, even if I knew she was right. Chiper wouldn't stand for that. I'd say, 'Oh, maybe she's not right, I feel fine,' because I wanted to do what I wanted to do. But if I ignored her, she'd give off this really sharp bark like, 'You'd better listen to me now.'" Eventually, the trainers rewarded Candice -- not Chiper -- with a candy every time she heeded the dog's warning.
When they finally went back to Florida, strict rules were in place to protect the bonding period: No one was allowed to interact with the dog but Candice. Chiper liked that arrangement, happily ignoring everyone but her owner and glowering at the competition: Tim. "She wouldn't even let us hug without nosing right in the middle," laughs Candice, who had been dating Tim for several months by this point. "Sometimes she'd stare him down, like, 'You're coming in between me and Mommy and I don't like you.'" Chiper is still quick to pick sides during lovers' quarrels. "If he comes to apologize after a fight, she'll get in his face," says Candice. "I have to tell her, 'It's okay, go lie down, we're fine.'"
To date, Tim has never come between them -- literally. He walks on Candice's right, Chiper on her left. That's exactly how they processed down the aisle after their wedding ceremony on that day last November: husband, wife -- and dog.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, June 2006.