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'Another pair of eyes watching over me:' How a B.C. woman's service dog saved her from drowning

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Sherry-Lynn Macwilliams lives with epilepsy and experiences multiple seizures a day. Her service dog Venta is trained to call for help and fetch her medicine when a seizure occurs. Sometimes, however, the dog is able to detect a seizure before it happens.

Macwilliams tells CTV News the most dramatic example came while she was swimming at Shawnigan Lake last summer.

“All of a sudden (Venta) started barking. I thought, ‘Oh you know she just doesn’t like to swim very much and doesn’t like me being in the water,'” said the Surrey resident.

Venta, however, kept barking and jumped into the lake, swimming directly to Macwilliams.

“And started to pull me, definitely pull me to shore,” said Macwilliams. “And so I swam into shore and got into the dock and right then, boom. It hit. Big seizure.”

Without Venta’s help, Macwilliams believes she would’ve drowned.

“That was the silent witness that was acting on her own to take care of my wife,” said Macwilliams; husband, Ian.

“That was God-given. That was just an act of grace and we’re very grateful for her.”

Macwilliams says there have been other occasions where Venta has barked or licked her face seconds before a seizure, giving her valuable seconds to prepare.

“What she can do is far beyond what we expected she could ever do,” said Macwilliams.

Venta trained for six weeks in the Canada Dog Guides Seizure Response Program. CTV News spoke with an instructor who admits Venta was trained to respond to seizures, not predict them. Her life-saving intuition is somewhat puzzling to the trainer.

“I don’t have a definitive answer to give you as to how she has started to pick up on seizures before they happen,” said Melanie Krumme.

Krumme says research is ongoing but there are several possible factors that may be at play, including the bond formed between the service dog and its client. Subtle shifts in things like scent and body-language could be some of the things the dog can detect.

Krumme tells CTV News demand for the service is high and it costs $35,000 to train and receive a dog.

Macwilliams shared her story with CTV News ahead of Canada Dog Guides’ largest annual fundraiser to help raise awareness for the program because she wants others in need to use the service. The non-profit is funded mostly by donations.

“I feel more independence that I’ve had for I think my life,” said Macwilliams. “There’s another pair of eyes watching me all the time.”

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