Nine-year-old Kierra Thompson, who has had thousands of seizures in her young life, came home from California last week with a new dog who is trained to detect them.
Peanut seemed just like any other 14-month-old Labrador retriever as he snoozed at the feet of Kierra’s mother, Katie Jo Thompson, in his new home in Green on Monday. But Peanut has been bred and raised to perform tasks that could save his young owner’s life. When he is fully trained in a few months, Peanut will be able to alert Kierra’s mother every time her daughter has a seizure or stops breathing.
A community concert in Myrtle Creek last year raised $10,000 to pay for Peanut, who was bred and raised by the nonprofit Little Angels Service Dogs in Sandee, California.
Thompson said she is grateful to community members who raised that fee at a nine-band Musicians for Mobility concert last year in Myrtle Creek.
“People just started pulling cash out of their pockets and putting it into the hat,” Thompson said. “I’m grateful and humble and pleased. It’s nice to know people of all ages are willing to ... seek out ways to help others.”
Julie Sislin, organizer for Musicians for Mobility, which organized the concert where the money was raised, said today she is thrilled that the Thompsons have their dog.
“I’m super excited that they’re actually home now,” Sislin said. “It just looks like it’s a perfect fit for the entire family.”
She said community members deserve the credit for the concert’s success.
“I’m just thrilled that we made it happen,” Sislin said. “The community really came together.”
Sislin said organizers are still considering candidates for this year’s fundraising concert July 26 and 27, which will feature 15 bands at Pyrenees South in Myrtle Creek.
Kierra had her first seizure at 11 months old.
After the seizures began, Thompson discovered her daughter was born with many tumors on her brain due to a rare condition called tuberous sclerosis. The tumors are not cancerous, but have caused both autistic behaviors and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, the most severe type of childhood epilepsy.
Thompson said her 9-year-old daughter functions at about the level of an autistic 2-year-old, so she was surprised by Kierra’s interest in Peanut during their first meeting June 11 in Sandee.
“She just went up to him and sat down and petted him,” she said. “She’s never really petted a pet before. She never wanted to.”
Peanut was not just trained but bred for his task. Seizure service dogs come from lines with dogs that show caring for people in distress, Thompson said.
Now that he’s home, Thompson works with Peanut daily.
She is teaching him to come to her for a treat whenever Kierra has a seizure or stops breathing. In time, he will learn to alert her every time it happens.
Peanut is also training to lay across Kierra’s legs on command to comfort her.
“We tell him ‘search.’ He has to go from person to person and when he finds Kierra, he gets a treat. The idea is it’s six months of this continual practice to make sure he will understand that she is the one he needs to be concerned about,” she said.
Thompson said Little Angels Service Dogs taught her a lot about dog training. While in California, she studied as many as 70 pages a day and took tests.
She learned she should never use Peanut’s name in a stern voice because he should feel positive about any commands she gives him after he hears it. She learned how to give treats without getting bitten.
“His main goal in life is to get treats and to be praised for doing these things he can do,” she said.
For a year, from June 16, 2013, to June 16, 2014, Kierra’s more severe seizures stopped. They were already in California to work with Peanut and celebrated by visiting Sea World. The next day, the seizures mysteriously started again. On Monday, her mother lost count after the 30th seizure.
Thompson said she hopes the cause of the recent uptick in seizures is something that can be treated.
While her seizures were stopped, Kierra made significant developmental gains. Thompson said her daughter now seems more like a 2-year-old than a 1-year-old. Her motor skills and language understanding have improved. She can walk to the car without holding her mother’s hand. She has also picked up a few negative traits common to 2-year-old children. She sometimes throws tantrums when she does not get her way and has become a picky eater.
“She’s definitely becoming a typical 2-year-old, and I think that’s just awesome,” Thompson said. “She was stuck at 10 months for eight years.”
Thompson said Peanut’s presence is already making a difference.
“For six years I’ve wanted to get a dog that sensed seizures. Now that he’s finally here, it’s a relief,” she said. “We love him.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.