Dogs have earned the title of "man's best friend." You won't find any disagreement with that statement from Sean Page of Minot. Nor from "Mickey."
Page and Mickey are closely linked. Mickey, a black Labrador, is a service dog provided to Page by America's VetDogs. VetDogs trains and provides guide and service dogs to military veterans who are in need of several varieties of assistance whether it be sight, hearing or many other physical disabilities. Page's primary disability is epilepsy.
"I've been battling with it since active duty," said Page. "I kept having leg tremors but nobody knew what it was."
Page served four years in the U.S. Air Force as a civil engineer. His tour of duty included a 2008-2009 stint overseas. One of the projects he worked on was the building of a 10,000 square foot hospital in Bagdad, Iraq.
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"Of the four years that I served that was one that I can look back on and say that I was proud of," said Page.
Page has been out of the Air Force for about five years. The early stages of epilepsy he was experiencing while on active duty continued to worsen. Within two months of leaving the Air Force he suffered his first Grand Mal seizure.
"I had to quit working. I was driving truck at the time," said Page.
Unable to work and facing uncertainty about what effect epilepsy would have on his future, Page turned to America's VetDogs. Two years later he received a call that he was eagerly waiting for.
"You apply and wait for approval. The dogs go through 18 to 24 months of intensive training," said Page. "I got a call and they told me to pack my bags."
The call was from VetDogs based in Smithtown, New York. They wanted Page to spend two weeks at their training campus so that he could become acquainted with his dog and learn proper handling.
"VetDogs is amazing! They are a non-profit organization that provides service dogs to veterans at no cost. Any generation of service. They get all their funds through donations."
Mickey was specifically trained to assist Page with his disability, the Minot Daily News reported . On request, he brings Page the medicine he needs when the veteran senses tremors that can be indicators of a pending seizure. Mickey brings Page his cell phone when needed, but can be relied upon to help in other important ways too.
"The most important one is called brace," explained Page. "When I feel a seizure coming, sometimes I can't move. What he does is, if I'm on the couch, my seizures can get really bad really quick. When I say brace and put my hands above his shoulder blades, he stiffens up. I basically use him as a crutch to get off the couch and away from the furniture. That way, if I go into a Grand Mal seizure, I'm not kicking the furniture or doing anything to hurt myself."
Mickey has been in Page's home for only a few weeks, but he has already helped with several incidents. Page said his dog picks up on things "pretty quick." Mickey's training is evident in a variety of situations.
"He goes anywhere I go. He knows his commands and knows where to go," said Page. "I've become more confident about leaving the house. He gives me inspiration to get out of the house and do something."
Mickey has been to grocery stores, restaurants and pet stores and has always displayed perfect manners, though his temperament is tested somewhat in the presence of children.
"He loves kids," said Page. "He's still a dog and trained very, very good but he's a little antsy around kids."
When Page and Mickey are in public, it is a natural reaction for many people to approach Mickey to give him a pat on the head or stroke him behind the ears, even though Mickey is wearing a vest that says "Please don't pet me. I'm working."
However, as many people have not encountered a service dog, they simply don't understand the duties of the dog and the reliance upon the dog by its owner. Distractions can interrupt the dog's intended purpose.
"I'm okay with the petting if someone asks me," remarked Page. "I have no problem with that."
Page, originally from Tampa, Florida, said Mickey draws attention where ever he goes.
"I do meet people that way," said Page. "I go to Marketplace Foods and everybody knows me and Mickey."
VetDogs trains and places guide dogs for individuals who are blind or have low vision; hearing dogs; service dogs for those with physical disabilities; physical and occupational therapy dogs to aid in rehabilitation at military and VA hospitals, and PTSD service dogs to help mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Further information about Vet Dogs can be found at VetDogs.org.
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com
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