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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Brandon News

Seffner community helps boy buy seizure-detecting dog

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SEFFNER -

Medication has helped young Andrew Smith control seizures that have plagued him since his toddler years. But occasionally, they still take hold, causing him to thrust out of bed, making him sick and vulnerable to injury.

That’s where Victory comes in. The special golden retriever got her first test recently when Andrew, 7, had his first seizure since bringing her home from 4 Paws for Ability.

The seizures can last anywhere from two minutes to 20 minutes and if his parents don’t realize he is having one, he could aspirate and choke.

When it happened this time, Victory went into work mode, immediately alerting Michelle and Bryon Smith to the trouble.

“She is awesome,” Andrew said.

Andrew was born prematurely and had brain damage, which caused cerebral palsy and epilepsy, his mother said. He’s had seizures regularly every three or four months. She learned about alert dogs like Victory and found 4 Paws for Ability, which works with people who have seizures, mobility issues, kids with post traumatic stress disorder and more.

Then, she set to work on fundraising.

“We obviously couldn’t have done it without everyone,” Michelle Smith said, noting that when she set out to raise the $22,000 needed to get and train the dog, then travel to Ohio for family training, the first check she received was from Brandon Newcomers. The Beef O’ Brady’s in Valrico stepped in more than once to provide donations and food for fundraisers. The nonprofit group Aliquity, which sponsored Dog Fest in FishHawk Ranch, gave to the cause. Andrew’s uncle, a professor at California State University, got together with colleagues and students to build a haunted house, raising $500 for the cause. Others helped as well.

It took a year to raise $13,000 the family needed to get a puppy in training and it took another year to raise the money it would take to haul the entire family to 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio, for two weeks of training.

“People that really didn’t have a lot would send a donation,” Michelle Smith said. “People in the family I know don’t have much would send a check for a hundred dollars. It’s been amazing.”

Victory, now 16 months old, is nothing short of awesome. Ask Andrew. It’s the single word he uses to describe everything about his pup.

He plays Frisbee with her. She lies by his side at night. He gives her endless love. She gives him kisses and accompanies him to doctors’ appointments. When he goes to the beach, she goes, too, and rolls in the sand.

But most importantly, Victory can sense when a seizure is coming on and quickly reacts, barking and creating a scene to get attention.

“She’s been really attached to him, especially since he had the seizure last week,” said Michelle Smith, a registered nurse who works with special needs children. “She really focuses on Andrew and his movements.”

Andrew is pretty focused on Victory, as well.

He is responsible for feeding and combing the family’s first dog.

He has taken her to show and tell at a Cub Scout meeting and is hoping she’ll soon visit Yates Elementary School, where he can introduce her to his first-grade class.

“It’s too bad more families don’t have the ability to do this,” Michelle Smith said. “She is one of only three dogs like this in the whole area.”


yhammett@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7127

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