Seth’s new dog to sound seizure alert

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

RAYMOND — Seth Richards peered into the garage at his dirt bike still in storage. He commented how depressing it is that all his fun stuff is stored or under

SETH RICHARDS gives a hug to one of his two dogs, Pepper, in the kitchen of his home in Raymond. Sometime in 2012, another dog will join the Richards’ family – a service dog that will alert Seth prior to his epileptic seizures, which sometimes occur daily. (De Busk photo)

tarps until the snow finally melts.

Until he can be reunited with his PW-50 motorcycle, the 11-year-old boy creates Lego® motorbikes — and helicopters, campers, and stretch limousines. A typical Maine boy, Seth loves year-round fishing and catching bugs, and catching and releasing other critters like snapping turtles.

Seth got hooked on motorbike riding about four years ago. In addition to the hilly dirt roads near his Raymond home, he likes to ride the track his uncle built on his Kennebunk property.

What makes getting on a motorbike a fantastic feat for Seth is his almost daily epileptic episodes that have caused him injury while riding. He has seizures during which he has been hurt, and even stopped breathing for close to a minute.

Still, Seth can’t wait until the snow is gone and his motorbike is out in the mud that is Maine during springtime.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a puppy is being trained to be the Richards personal alert button — to predict Seth’s seizures so he is able to get to a safe place.

Thanks to the financial help of Shaw’s Supermarket, sometime in 2012, the Richards will meet the service-dog-in-training — a dog that will be able to detect epileptic seizures before they happen.

Susan, Seth’s mom, has been on a waiting list for five years — a waiting list for her son to receive a service dog through the organization, Canine Assistants headquartered in Atlanta. Shaw’s stepped forward, and offered to cover the costs of training a service dog for Seth — as well as flying the family south to meet their new dog, she said.

According to Susan, the dog is trained for about 18 months before families travel to the Atlanta-based facility, where a dog “will choose us” within the first couple days of being there. Then, all the families spend two weeks getting to know their service dog and learning the correct commands, she said.

“I was told your dog finds you. They train us on the commands and see how Seth and dog work together. At the end of two weeks, the dog comes home with us,” Susan said.

The dog will be allowed to travel on the airplane with Seth and his family during the return trip.

The future service dog will ride the school bus with Seth and accompany him during his school days, and be with him everywhere he goes, Susan said.

Recently, during a pre-spring day in his home, Seth pointed out the 500-piece puzzle he and his mom had almost completed. They talked about trying to put together a three-dimensional puzzle. The images on each piece looked different depending at which angle they saw it. So, that puzzle went back into the box, Mom said.

“I like doing puzzles,” Seth said.

Suddenly, his two dogs wanted some attention. A long-haired Dachshund and a Pug named Pepper circled the kitchen chairs. Seth was happy to show off his dogs’ snack-eating skills. He jumped onto the kitchen counter to reach the dog treats on top of the fridge. Quickly, he ran out of treats, and told the story about how he hurt his toe. Seth pulled off his sock to show how his toenail had been hit so hard that it had fallen off and a new one was growing back. He said his toe had been broken during an epileptic seizure last December — when he grabbed his Christmas stocking and the heavy object holding it tumbled off the mantle and hit his foot.

Seth appeared to be nonchalant about (even a little proud of) his injury. But, his mom said her son has more scars from stitches on his face than any kid should have.

Susan Richards said her son’s seizures started when he was in kindergarten. Those first ones were Seth staring into space for a few seconds — something his kindergarten teacher mentioned to Susan.

After the family received the diagnosis of epilepsy, the seizures became more frequent, longer and scarier.

“Seizures had gone from a few second stares, to Grand Mal. He has stopped breathing,” she said. “To this day, when he has seizure something different happens.”

Two years ago, Susan experienced a difficult breakthrough — and gave Seth more freedom to be a little boy. Before that time she did not even want him on the playground or being anywhere that could cause injury during an unexpected seizure. Susan became overprotective.

“It was so scary and I was saying ‘no’ all the time. He couldn’t be alittle boy because I was always saying, ‘No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that.’ After a couple of years of trying to hold him back from all the little boy things, it became so hard to not let him do anything that little boys do,” she said.

“I cried, ‘Poor baby, can’t be a little boy,’” she said. “I know he has seizures, but he still has to be a little boy. He rides a dirt bike. He has had seizures while riding, but he is equipped from head to toe.”

Lifejackets are a must when hanging out with his family near water, Seth said.

“He’s great at wearing his lifejacket,” mom agreed, adding Seth and his dad love to go fishing and boating together.

In the summertime, the family also protects duck nests on their property off Thomas Pond. Sometimes, Seth catches wandering snapping turtles and releases them in Little Sebago Lake.

During the winter, Seth has been tracking the activity of raccoons that are brave enough to leave snow-prints on his porch.

Seth said he’s confident the service dog will want to do all the same activities he likes.

Susan likes the idea of being in another room, and having the dog warn her before Seth has a seizure. This future dog will be a welcomed addition to the family, she said.

For more information about Canine Assistants, go to www.canineassistants.org. There is information about applying for service dogs, donating to the organization, and how the dogs are selected and trained.

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