Evan Moss is 8 years old, has a dog named Mindy, and is ready to start the third grade shortly after Labor Day. He lives with his parents and sister, Aria. Evan walks his dog to school, the supermarket, restaurants, and basically everywhere he goes. Evan and his pooch are privy to such dog-welcoming rewards because Mindy is his seizure-assistance dog. Everything about this child is atypical, right down to his uncanny ability to draw people into his persona. He’s armed with quick wit and a great sense of humor.
“He is quite the remarkable child,” his mom, Lisa, says. “He was born with tuberous sclerosis complex, TSC. It causes tumors to grow in vital organs.” Evan had four growths in his brain and has developed a kidney tumor. The result of these benign but life-altering tubers in Evan’s case has been seizures.
His mom says that when Evan was 4, he was having 300 or more seizures a month. After brain surgery, he was seizure-free for about two years. One of the tubers that was not removed has become active and Evan’s epilepsy has flared to about one seizure every 10 days. “He doesn’t have the frequency he did, but the intensity of seizures is unlike anything he ever had. So it’s been interesting,” Lisa says.
Seizures do not define this wonder child. Much the way his hazel eyes are a part of his composition, so, too, is epilepsy. Since the Moss family has always been open and honest with Evan and Aria, they are grateful for the bond their kids have formed. Aria has even advocated for epilepsy at her school. Not many kids have to deal with a brother having brain surgery, Lisa reflects.
After getting more involved with the epilepsy and TSC communities online and attending conferences on the topics, the Mosses created Seizure Tracker as a free online resource to serve as a seizure diary and form of treatment communication between doctor and patient. They had noticed seizure-assistance dog booths at the conferences, but always dismissed the idea — plus Lisa is allergic to dogs. If they did ever consider a dog, where would they start?
Enter 4 Paws for Ability, a group that provides service dogs to children worldwide. The family knew having a constant companion for Evan would help him. The dog could sniff out seizures before they happened and alert others to the boy’s side.
“When we submitted our application for a dog in the spring of 2011, one of the items requested from 4 Paws For Ability was a letter or picture from the child receiving the dog,” Lisa says. There was also a steep price tag for the dog, but her son had that covered: “Evan decided he wanted to write a book as a way to raise money.”
The result was My Seizure Dog, self-published and illustrated by Evan through Amazon.com’s self-publishing platform, CreateSpace, about what he thought having a service dog would be like. Now armed with a book and a mission, Lisa asked a local coffee shop about a signing. They were very receptive and let the fans come. And come they did. About 600 people lined up, and this special boy with the outgoing personality added successful author to his credits.
The media took notice, and outlets like The Washington Post and The Huffington Post interviewed the family. Within two weeks, the Mosses had raised $45,000, which secured the cost of the service dog — and helped seven other children finish their fundraising. Throughout this time, Lisa wrote on her blog, Dog 4 Evan, about Evan’s progress and challenges and their hopes and activities, and then she began to blog about service-dog training. For 10 days of intensive training at the 4 Paws For Ability Center, Lisa shared Evan’s progress with the world.
And then came Mindy, the service dog.
Mindy goes everywhere Evan goes. For a young man with a wise soul, Evan is in tune with folks who want to meet the dog. Lisa says, “We try to let people interact with Mindy, especially kids. Not only is it good to let folks know about service dogs, but it’s also good for Mindy to be with kids.”
When a seizure is looming, Mindy licks Evan with what he calls “machine gun kisses,” or she will sniff his ears, eyes, or mouth. Mindy will only lick Evan in this capacity. She was not particularly trained in this behavior, but she knows that if a seizure is coming, she needs to alert. A service dog, Lisa says, is always in training: “Everything is a trick and a game.”
Since Mindy is a Goldendoodle, the allergens are not as intense, and Lisa has been able to adjust to the dog in the family. In fact, she has adjusted times two. Evan’s sister, Aria, loves dogs to the “nth degree,” so Lisa ended up acquiring Dinky, a Poodle-Terrier mix from 4 Paws For Ability who was not geared toward being a service dog. Evan needs to maintain his bonding with Mindy, so Aria dotes on Dinky.
The family is hopeful and keeps a close eye on Evan’s condition, but one thing is for certain: Evan is in good hands with Mindy.
To learn more about Evan and Mindy and follow their progress, visit Dog 4 Evan.
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