To a stranger, Clarabelle looks like an average, standard black poodle. But to Luke Smolinski and his parents, Jackie and Steve, she’s crucial to the 5 year old’s safety and well-being.
Since October 2009, Clarabelle has never been far from Luke’s side, detecting his seizures anywhere from 6-20 minutes before they happen.
Luke has had grand mal seizures since he was 8 months old. Although the frequency varies, Luke sometimes has had as many as two to three seizures a week.
In 2008, his mom, Jackie, discovered 4 Paws for Ability, an organization in Xenia, Ohio, that trains service dogs for children with autism, seizures or diabetes. There was no wait list for her son to receive a dog, but the Smolinski family had to raise money to help cover the cost.
Seizure alert dogs can cost $20,000 to $30,000, so 4 Paws for Ability asks the family to raise at least $11,000 to help cover the cost.
How does Clarabelle know when Luke is going to have a seizure?
4 Paws for Ability trains up to 100 dogs to become seizure alert dogs. For several weeks, Luke would wear white t-shirts under his clothes. When he would have a seizure, Jackie would take the white t-shirt off and send it to the facility where the dogs were in training.
Out of the 100 dogs, only three to four will actually react to a child’s specific scent. Jackie also had to send t-shirts in which he didn’t have a seizure, so the dogs could tell the difference between the two smells.
Jackie said that most of Luke’s seizures take place during the night, which made sleeping difficult for her and her husband before Clarabelle. Now, Clarabelle sleeps beside Luke every night and paws at Jackie to wake her up when Luke is about to have a seizure.
Clarabelle has never missed predicting a seizure since they brought her home over four years ago.
She rides the school bus and stays with Luke while he’s at school. She can also let the teacher know if Luke is going to have a seizure so they can take him to another room.
If you see Luke around Akron Children’s Hospital, Clarabelle is never far behind. She goes to all of his doctor visits and therapy sessions, and stays with him when he has to be hospitalized.
“The bond that Luke and Clarabelle share is a relationship that cannot even be fully explained,” Jackie said. “Luke has very little audible speech, and after getting Clarabelle, he managed to actually put two words together, calling Clarabelle, ‘good girl.’”
Luke hasn’t had as many seizures lately, but Clarabelle also alerts the family when Luke has stopped breathing, which has occurred more often.
Because the seizures and breathing episodes happen sporadically, it’s very hard to predict when they’ll occur. That makes Clarabelle’s role even more important – Luke’s life depends on the service she provides.
“Words will never be enough to express the gratitude we have for everyone at 4 Paws for Ability and all the generous donors who made getting her possible,” Jackie said.