Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Man's - and an Epileptic's - Best Friend

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Man's - and an Epileptic's - Best Friend

Article excerpt

TWO OR THREE TIMES a week, Christine Murray's dog, a pit bull and beagle mix named Annie, leaps onto Murray's lap and begins licking her face furiously.

It's not a sign of affection or misbehavior, Murray says, but a warning to the dog's owner to stop what she's doing and lie down.

One or two minutes later, says the 28-year-old Leesburg, Va., resident, she will be racked by an epileptic seizure that can leave her shaking uncontrollably for 10 minutes or more.

"It's amazing," she says. "I can't explain it. I don't know why. But Annie can tell when I'm going to have a seizure." That's something that Murray, like most epileptics, wouldn't otherwise know.

Though Murray and dozens of other epileptics make such claims about their dogs, seizure-alerting canines are a relatively new phenomenon backed by little scientific proof, medical experts say.

In Murray's case, the skepticism extends to some local store and restaurant owners, who have refused to recognize Annie as a disability-service dog and have banned the animal from their premises.

"I've had people come up to me in stores and say, `Get that filthy mutt out of here,' " said Murray, who never keeps Annie more than a few feet away. "I try to tell them it's a seizure dog, but they don't believe me."

Unlike other service animals, such as guide dogs for blind people, seizure-alerting dogs generally do not have formal academy training. Murray discovered her dog's abilities by accident and later put the animal through a home obedience-training program.

The public transit service in her home county won't let Annie on board its buses.

Federal law allows service dogs in any public building but does not spell out what kind of certification the animals require.

Adding to the controversy is a dearth of research into seizure-alerting dogs. The Epilepsy Foundation of America, for example, does not formally recognize such claims, spokesman Peter Van Haverbeke said.

"We're really open-minded on the issue, but until there's some more research, we really don't have a position on it," he said.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence, animal-behavior experts and epilepsy researchers see merit in claims of people such as Murray. …

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