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Service dog helps child in need

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Service dog helps child in need

When Olivia was born, she was not expected to survive, having been born with multiple birth defects and a seizure disorder.  She is a beautiful little girl who has exceeded all expectations, to grow into a child of six years. That is not to say she has not had difficult times. She has struggled to make it this far and has more difficulties ahead of her.  She is now attending the first grade in school with the help of her best friend and service dog, Phoebe.

Phoebe is a large, black Labrador Retriever who loves and works for Olivia. Their bond is exceptional in that Phoebe is able to alert to Olivia’s seizures, anxiety and exhaustion.   She accomplishes this by pacing between Olivia and her teacher, sitting at Olivia’s side at each pass. If Olivia is going to have an anxiety attack or seizure, Phoebe will alert more strenuously by placing her paw on the teacher’s lap. Phoebe is so good at her job; she even alerted to another child in the class about to have an Epileptic seizure.

What makes this relationship even more extraordinary is that this six-year-old little girl handles this big dog on her own, with no assistance from anyone. Phoebe listens to every word Olivia says and guides her through the busy hallways throughout the school. She guides her outside during fire alarms and sits quietly with her during assemblies. Phoebe protects her regularly from passing cars on her way to school and in the parking lot, keeping herself between Olivia and the vehicles. When Olivia becomes over stimulated or anxious, she can suffer severe visual impairment, at which point Phoebe calmly guides her to a quiet place or alerts her teacher. When Olivia recognizes that she is becoming uncomfortable, she will go to Phoebe’s bed in the classroom and cuddle with Phoebe until she is able to continue in class. If Olivia tries to cuddle up with Phoebe to get out of doing her class work, Phoebe will gently push her away or move away, knowing she doesn’t really need her just then.

Phoebe always makes sure she can see Olivia in the classroom and will reposition herself to maintain this contact. She loves to go to school with Olivia and truly misses being there during holidays, to the point of sulking.  Olivia has quirks which make themselves evident by her tapping on Phoebe’s forehead right between her eyes. Most dogs would hate this and move away or growl, but Phoebe just lays there and patiently waits for Olivia to stop. She does not move away or make any sound, but just cuddles a little closer to Olivia. 

Phoebe sleeps in Olivia’s room every night, beginning on the bed next to Olivia until she falls asleep. Then she will quietly and carefully climb off the bed and go sleep in her crate, unless Olivia needs her in the middle of the night. Then she will climb right back on the bed and cuddle up to Olivia for as long as she needs her. In the morning, Olivia takes responsibility of Phoebe and let’s her outside for her morning constitution, then lets her in to feed her breakfast.  Phoebe knows she must sit and wait patiently for her food until Olivia tells her it’s alright to eat. 

Phoebe is like any other dog and loves to play and be quite silly. However, once she sees her service vest come out, she immediately becomes serious and is ready to work. Phoebe rarely receives any treats and works simply because she loves and adores Olivia. It is easy to see that Olivia feels the same way and her mother is quite sure Olivia would not be able to even attend school were it not for Phoebe. “She is amazing,” says Olivia’s mom.

Elizabeth Baker is owner of Thames Centre Service Dogs in Thorndale, Ont. Visit