Baloo the service dog sitting on a jetty

‘My Labrador saves my life everyday’

Dani Stevens, 28, lived with uncontrolled epilepsy for 11 years and could not be alone at any time. Then, Baloo the service Labrador came and not only saved her life multiple times, but also gave her independence. Baloo has been rewarded as Puppy Tales Australian Dog of the Year!

Dani sitting on the ground with her service dog Baloo lying in front of her
Dani with her service dog Baloo

Here, Dani tells her story. 

Turning the tap on, warm water whooshed from the shower.

“Is everything alright, darling?” my mum Kerri called out.

“Yes,” I sighed.

It was 2016, and for the past four years I had been having up to 30 seizures a day.

At the worst, I’d average 20 to 30 an hour. 

Despite multiple visits to specialists, no-one could tell me why I was suffering these debilitating seizures. 

It meant constant trips to the ER from concussions, broken bones and dislocations as a result of falling to the floor during the episode, and having to keep living at home. 

I could never be in a room alone because of it, not even to shower, and as a 21-year-old, I was finding the lack of independence getting me down.

At night, my family had to check on me just in case I wasn’t breathing.

Discovering assistance dogs

“Have you looked into an assistance dog?” my friend Kerri asked one day when we were doing Crossfit.

“Not really,” I admitted. I knew there were assistance dogs for the blind, but I wasn’t sure how a dog could help me.

A few days later,  Kerri told me she’d done some research.

“There’s a company called Dogs For Life,” she started. 

I learned that they teach dogs to smell a chemical change in your body and alert you when a seizure is about to come on.

“Sounds amazing,” I beamed. The only downside was the cost.

“It’s $35,000 for a dog,” said Kerri. My family couldn’t afford that, but Kerri insisted on fundraising.

Over the next two years, the Crossfit Ipswich community rallied together and came up with the cash by hosting raffles and morning teas.

“I can’t believe it,” I said tearily.

Meeting Baloo for the first time

Soon after, I met Baloo, a black Labrador trained by Dogs For Life.

Driving from Ipswich to the company headquarters in Melbourne, I felt nervous. But when the trainer brought Baloo to me, she bolted into the room and raced around in circles.

“She’s a ball of energy,” I laughed. It was hard to imagine how she could be an assistance dog. 

Next day, we met Baloo and her trainer at a cafe. This time, she had her working-dog vest on and was a different dog.

“She’s like a robot,” I said, stunned.

As we sat down for a coffee, Baloo suddenly started jumping on me and licking me all over.

“Sit down Baloo,” we all said, laughing. Minutes later, I had a seizure. 

She’d sensed the chemical changes in my body and was trying to let me know I was about to seize.

She was by my side until the ambulance came to take me to hospital.

Dani lying on the ground with Baloo by her side with paramedics helping
The first time Dani met Baloo, she alerted her of an impending seizure

Instantly, I knew she was the dog for me, and we took her back to Ipswich with us. 

Remarkably, that year I was finally diagnosed with epilepsy, too. It meant getting the right medication and support to manage my condition.  

Between the diagnosis and Baloo, I now only have a few seizures a week – a huge improvement – and I know who to thank! Baloo makes me feel safe, and from that day on she was my best friend and shadow.

Finding my independence

Recently, with my seizures reduced, I was able to build a granny flat at the back of my parents’ house, and gain more control of my life. 

Wanting to thank Baloo, we entered her in the Puppy Tales Australian Dog of the Year, and I was delighted when she won. 

She’s saved my life more than a handful of times and I couldn’t be more grateful for her.

“With these awards, we’re reminded again and again of just how incredible our doggos are, and

seen how ordinary Paw-stralians from all across Australia have helped their people, made a

difference to others and be outstanding fur-citizens in the communities that they live in,” said

Kerry Martin, international award-winning pet photographer and founder of Puppy Tales, a

website aimed at helping pet owners make the most of life with their fur family.

This story was originally published in Take 5 magazine

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